1. GAMBLING CRACK, DOWN
Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) have long been seen by their critics as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling industry, letting addicts bet £100 every 20 seconds. The machines have effectively turned high street bookies into mini-casinos. Well, this morning the Government took a major step towards killing them off, slashing the maximum stake to £2. Finally, Theresa May can say she’s delivering on her steps-of-No10 claim that this is not a laissez-faire government.
The Sun and the Mail both announced the story last night at 10pm, but Culture Secretary Matt Hancock and ‘Minister for Sport and Civil Society’ (both bits of that title were stressed by officials today) Tracey Crouch confirmed the plan to the stock market at 7am. And there’s no doubt the news will have a major impact on bookmakers, with some fearing the loss of millions from their profits and warning thousands of jobs will be hit.
In what looks like an attempt to slightly sweeten the bitter pill for the bookies, and to ensure the Treasury doesn’t lose out on income, the DCMS said “the change will be linked to an increase in Remote Gaming Duty, paid by online gaming operators, at the relevant Budget”. It’s certainly a ballsy move by Hancock as his Suffolk constituency includes Newmarket, the home of flat horseracing. Horse trainers have warned cutting FOBT income will mean a drop in prize money for racing and would hammer ‘a very big nail in the sport’s coffin’. Some ministers think the warnings are overblown, but even if there are closures of bookmaker shops, few MPs will mourn their passing.
Labour’s Tom Watson (who has overseen a marked break from the Blair era love-in with the industry) said: “It’s not often that the Opposition congratulates a Government minister, but Tracey Crouch has made the right decision today.” And Crouch deserves much credit too for sticking to her guns, helping persuade the PM the move was worth it. This whole policy shift is a salutary lesson in how to effect change. Given that secondary legislation is needed for the move, May’s wafer-thin Parliamentary majority was vulnerable to Tory MPs siding with the Opposition to slash the limit if ministers had failed to do so. But most of all, it’s a testimony to the cross-party work of gambling addiction campaigners, who have been showing the awful human cost …