Gambling Commission advises Government on gaming machines review

The UK Gambling Commission has offered its official position on the UK Government’s review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures, by writing to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with its recommendations and advice.

fixed-odds betting terminals in a shop

High-street operators derive a significant portion of revenues from fixed-odds betting terminals. © The Independent.

Among the recommendations is a cut to fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) slots stakes to £2. However, the Commission has advised that the stakes for non-slot games on FOBTs, including roulette, should be set at £30 or lower.

Campaigners have argued that high stakes and rapid play means that consumers can lose huge amounts of money easily and quickly and justifies a cut in stakes to £2 on non-slot games.

However, bookmakers have argued that such a cut would essentially ruin their businesses, with Ladbrokes Coral for example claiming the cut would cost them around £437m each year.

At the centre of the Commission’s advice is its goal to reduce the risks associated with gambling that consumers may face. To achieve this, cooperation from Government, operators, the Commission and other stakeholders is required.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including.

  • A cut in FOBT slot games (B2) stakes to £2.
  • Stake limits for FOBT non-slot games (BT 2), including roulette, should be set at £30 or lower to restrict the possibility of players losing large amounts in short spaces of time.
  • Machines should not be able to allow players to play different categories of games in a single session.
  • Potentially make tracked play mandatory on certain categories of machines (B1, B2, B3). Category B1 and B3 games should also have similar protections already in place with B2 games, such as player limits.
  • Limit setting should be made more effective, for example by implementing time and money limits on consumers, by working with industry and other stakeholders.

Another key proposal that could could shake up the industry significantly is the notion of due diligence checks towards new customers. As part of verification measures for new customers, operators would have to verify players in areas like affordability and sources of their funds.

Speaking about the recommendations, Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission chief executive, said:

We’ve put consumers at the heart of our advice – advice which is based on the best available evidence and is focussed on reducing the risk of gambling-related harm. In our judgement, a stake cut for fixed-odds betting terminals alone doesn’t go far enough to protect vulnerable people. That is why we have recommended a stake cut plus a comprehensive package of other measures to protect consumers. We have proposed actions that will tackle both the risk of harm and provide solutions that are sustainable in the longer term.Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission chief executive

Recommendations will be good news for bookmakers

Many support groups and campaigners have long supported the cut in FOBT stakes to £2, while the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the department presiding over the review, also looks to favour the maximum cut. The Commission’s recommendation will perhaps have the most influence of all the submissions regarding the review of the industry within the DCMS and could therefore lead to a £2 maximum stake on slot games.

However, the recommendations are perhaps better news for bookmakers. The biggest fear for operators was a stake cut in roulette and casino-style games on FOBTs to £2, as operators earn the majority of their revenues from these games. With the Commission only recommending a cut from £100 to £30 or below on these games, bookmakers will likely be treating this news as a victory.

The ruling has still not be made though and the decision whether to implement the Commission’s recommendations rests with Government.

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