News that the maximum sake on fixed-odds betting terminals is to be cut from £100 to £2 has been welcomed by campaigners and politicians across Southwark.
Last week, after a long-running consultation with charities, MPs, ex-gamblers and the gambling industry itself, the government announced the maximum stake will now be cut to £2, down from £100, in an effort to stop problem gambling.
The move was announced on May 17, in an formal government statement from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Secretary of State Matt Hancock, who said: “When faced with the choice of halfway measures or doing everything we can to protect vulnerable people, we have 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.”
Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOTBs) are electronic slot machines found in high-street betting shops where players can bet on high-stakes casino games like roulette, and rack up huge losses within a short period of time.
Helen Hayes tweeted that the announcement was a ‘victory for Labour MPs and councils’ after years of campaigning on the issue.
— Helen Hayes (@helenhayes_) May 17, 2018
In April the News revealed that the highly-addictive ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ terminals – as dubbed by campaigners – were leading to annual ‘social harm losses’ of £9.9 million in the borough, one of London’s hardest hit.
Rather than simply focusing on the amount of money punters were losing, researchers from the Centre for Economics and Business Research looked at the wider impact fixed-odds gambling had on health, wealth and family life – including housing.
The chief executive of BACTA, body for the amusement and gaming machine industry, who commissioned the research into ‘social harm losses’ – told the News: “A stake reduction to £2 has long been needed to protect consumers from the harm caused by FOBTs.
“This is a decision that puts player protection first, and will allow the gambling industry as a whole to move forwards and create a safer, more socially responsible environment for consumers.
“It is a testament to the wide-ranging campaign for stake reduction from concerned individuals and organisations across politics, public health and the wider gaming sector.
“The Government has made the right decision and it now needs to be implemented without delay.
Labour councillor for South Bermondsey Leo Pollak, who had taken up the issue with fellow Southwark councillor, Stephanie Cryan, described it as a ‘huge moment’ for both problem gambling and Southwark’s high streets.
In 2013 Southwark Council stopped giving licences to new betting, pay-day loan and pawn shops and has since supported the campaign for a reduced stake.
A huge moment this for clamping down on addictive gambling and for our high streets. Fantastic news for Southwark.
Massive congrats to Derek, Adrian and @mattzarb for sticking with it over all these years @StoptheFOBTs @fairergambling https://t.co/FdGvDk8wBZ
— Leo Pollak (@Leo_Pollak) May 17, 2018
The new legislation is expected to come into effect in 2019, with some bookmakers claiming it will see their profits nosedive.
William Hill issued a statement on May 17 which said a £2 state could see 900 of its shops close across the country, and a reduction in their gaming revenue by 35-40 per cent.
Chief executive Philip Bowcock, said: “William Hill has a long and proud heritage as part of the UK high street and we know how important betting shops are to our customers and their local economies.
“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 horse racing.
“We will continue to evolve our Retail business in order to adapt to this change and we will support our colleagues as best we can.
Despite the challenges presented by this decision, our teams will compete hard and offer great service to William Hill customers.”
Cllr Victoria Mills, Cabinet Member for finance, performance and Brexit, said: “Southwark Council has actively campaigned to reduce harm to vulnerable gamblers, people close to them and society as a whole, with the introduction of a £2 maximum stake.
“I am delighted that this will now be happening and that more responsible gambling and greater player-protection, will soon be in place on our high streets.”