The House of Commons debate on Fixed Odds Betting Machines and the control of retail betting shop licensing was ongoing Wednesday afternoon when we went to press, but the initial exchanges on the issue during Prime Minister’s Question Time indicated a rare agreement between the government and the Opposition.
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband kept his word to put the gambling issue on the agenda for debate, and prime minister David Cameron indicated a willingness to cooperate, saying he wanted to “work together” to address “problems” with betting shop FOBTs, which have become a target for the mainstream media, politicians and local authorities due to the high-speed, high stakes gambling potential of the units.
Describing the machines, The Telegraph newspaper reports that the units simulate casino games, and that it is possible to bet up to GBP 100 every 20 seconds to win up to GBP 500.
The anti-FOBT lobby claims the machines are highly addictive, are located in betting shops in many poor areas, and account for half the profits made by bookie companies.
Responding the Opposition initiative, Cameron said: “This is a problem, it does need looking at, we have a review under way. Frankly we are clearing up a situation that was put in place under the last government but I think if we work together we can probably sort it out.”
However, he noted: “Fixed odds betting terminals were introduced in 2001 after the Labour government relaxed gambling regulations.”
The government has already commissioned a detailed study of the machines, which is due to present its findings next autumn, but the pressure to introduce restrictions is on, and changes may be pushed through before then.
The Labour Party is leading the Commons debate on the issue this afternoon, along with its proposal to give local councils more power to stop the spread of retail betting shops in their regions, something which prominent Conservatives like London mayor Boris Johnson supports.
According to the UK Gambling Commission, there are more than 33,000 FOBTs generating over GBP 1.5 billion every year.