A consultation last year by the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) led to an announcement that the maximum available stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) would be greatly reduced from £100 to £2. The plan provoked outcry from UK bookmakers.
New legislation was planned to come into force in April 2020.
However, one government source told the Financial Times newspaper that the change in law could be bought forward by as much as a year – in line with the start of the next financial year.
This would leave bookmakers with less than six months to prepare for what would inevitably be a massive drop in revenue. Theoretically, FOBT users are able to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds.
The news will please campaigners who argue that, since their introduction in 1999, FOBTs have become the ‘crack cocaine’ of UK gambling; a social blight contributing to a rise in gambling addiction in the UK.
A 2017 survey found that there were 2 million people in the UK either addicted to, or at risk of becoming addicted to, gambling.
Potential Closures And Job Losses
However, bookmakers will continue to argue that implementing such harsh restrictions on FOBTs will hurt the industry. They claim it will place 3000 betting shops at risk of closure and with that the loss of as many as 15,000 jobs.
The government would still have to hold a vote in parliament on any such change, but with last year’s announcement already having hit bookmakers’ share prices, any speculation on faster legislation could potentially further knock the confidence of investors.
Future Changes Online
Of further worry to UK bookmakers will be the plan to counterbalance the loss of tax the government takes from FOBTs by raising taxes levied on online gambling – especially at a time when markets such as America and Sweden are becoming more liberalised.
However, the government has yet to set out any concrete proposals on these rises.
The industry fear however, that they face the double impact of reduced revenue from one area of their business (shops), and increased taxes in the one area they might expect to grow (online revenue).