The maximum permitted stake on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) will be cut from £100 to £2, the government has announced after ministers ignored pleas from bookmakers and branded the machines a “social blight”.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport opted for £2 after more than a year of furious argument between anti-FOBT groups and high street bookmakers, who derive more than half of their revenue from the machines.
The change, which requires parliamentary approval, will reduce the government’s tax take from the machines, but this will be paid for by an increase in duty applied to online gambling, to be detailed in the next budget.
What are FOBTs?
Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are machines, found largely in bookmakers and betting shops, that allow customers to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds on digital versions of games such as roulette.
How many are there?
The UK has 33,611 FOBTs, each of which take more than £53,000 from gamblers per year.
Why are they considered a problem?
Critics of FOBTs say they are particularly addictive, allow gamblers to rack up huge losses within a few hours, and are concentrated in deprived areas. They have also been linked to money laundering.
The secretary of state for DCMS, Matt Hancock, said the government had chosen to “take a stand”.
“These machines are a social blight and prey on some of the most vulnerable in society, and we are determined to put a stop to it and build a fairer society for all,” he said.
The sports minister, Tracey Crouch, who has led the review, said the government had been particularly concerned by the relationship between FOBTs and problem gambling, particularly in areas of high deprivation. She pointed to evidence showing that individual gamblers lost more than £1,000 on the machines on more than 233,000 occasions in a single year.
The government also outlined a package of measures designed to protect vulnerable people and the young.
They include the use of spending limits for online gambling until companies have carried out affordability checks to ensure gamblers have enough money to play.
The age limit for the national lottery, which can be played at 16, will also be reviewed, while online gambling firms will be made to tighten up age checks.
TV adverts for gambling will have to show responsible gambling messages for their entire duration, while there will also be a dedicated TV ad campaign targeting addiction.
Public Health England will also carry out a review of the damage to health caused by gambling, amid concern about the lack of attention it has received compared with alcohol and drugs.
But the curbs to the UK’s 33,611 FOBTs, each of which take more than £53,000 from gamblers per year, have garnered the most attention, after more than a year of furious argument between bookmakers and campaigners.
The Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chair of a cross-party group on FOBTs, said she was delighted by the decision.
“This is something I, and others, have long campaigned for. FOBTs have caused too much social harm and huge losses for those who can least afford it.
“Last year there were more than 230,000 individual sessions in which a user lost more than £1,000. These machines have increased the risk of problem gambling, which carries a very significant social and economic cost.
“This was morally the right decision to make and it is a victory for all those people whose lives have been blighted by these toxic machines.”
The Association of British Bookmakers said: “This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for betting shops on the high street. We expect over 4,000 shops to close and 21,000 colleagues to lose their jobs.
“The independent expert advice warned that this would simply shift people, the majority of whom gamble responsibly, to alternative forms of gambling where there is less chance of human interaction and its impact on problem gambling levels is far from certain.”
William Hill, which saw its shares soar earlier this week after the US legalised sports betting, said it expects up to 900 shops to become unprofitable with some likely to close soon and operating profits set to decline by up to £100m.
In a lengthy statement to the stock market its chief executive, Philip Bowcock, said: “The government has handed us a tough challenge today and it will take some time for the full impact to be understood, for our business, the wider high street and key partners like horseracing.”
Shares in William Hill fell more than 3% in early trading. Paddy Power dropped 1.5%.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, a former FOBT addict and spokesperson for Fairer Gambling, said: “The work of Tracey Crouch and Carolyn Harris should be commended.
“Allowing high-stakes roulette machines in such an easily accessible environment has had disastrous consequences, impacting levels of gambling related harm and crime.
“The government’s decision to cut the stake back to £2 is the right one and must be enacted as soon as possible. The evidence shows it will reduce harm for those experiencing it, and eliminate the most addictive roulette content, which will significantly reduce problem gambling associated with FOBTs.”