UK Government Moves £2 FOBT Max Bet Rollout to April 2019
After facing political pressure to move up the rollout of a new policy, the UK government agreed to lower the maximum bet for fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 in April 2019. The previous time for the launch of the new policy was October 2019.
The decision by Theresa May’s government to move up the start date came after prolonged criticism to the policy, which many accused the government of delaying to please the very gaming operators the policy was designed to police.
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch resigned in protest of the delay. The final straw came when several Tory MPs joined Labour leaders in opposition to force the hand of the government.
Several former Tory ministers, including Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith and Justine Greening, threatened to table amendments to the finance bill if the policy was not changed.
Jeremy Wright on April 2019 Deadline
Facing a potential threat to her leadership over the recently finalized Brexit negotiations, Theresa May’s government climbed down on other brewing controversies. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said of Theresa May’s climbdown, “The government has listened and will now implement the reduction in April 2019.”
In a further blow for the UK gambling industry, Jeremy Wright said the government also would bring forward the implementation date for the Remote Gaming Duty — an additional tax on remote gaming revenues — to make up the expected deficit to the treasury if the FOBT revenues were reduced.
The imposition of a new remote gaming tax on top of the significant loss of FOBT revenues is a pair of body blows to companies like William Hill and Ladbrokes. Most of the top UK-facing gaming operators had complained they needed the lengthier implementation time-frame to divert resources and prepare for a new financial picture.
UK Gaming Companies Reeling
Already, it had been predicted that the FOBT law and the Remote Gaming Duty would force a new period of consolidation in the British gaming industry. When the Point-of-Consumption Tax was implemented in 2014 and 2015, a wave of buyouts and mergers happened in the UK gaming industry.
Several companies have switched their focus to foreign markets. For instance, William Hill famously said it would focus more effort on expanding operations in the United States, due to the expansion of sports betting there and the increased taxation and regulations in the United Kingdom.
For her part, Tracey Crouch welcomed the new policies, saying that “common sense” had prevailed in the debate on fixed-odds betting terminals. FOBTs are the most controversial form of betting in the United Kingdom at this time, as Labour MPs and anti-gaming advocates have labeled them the “crack cocaine of gambling.”
Why FOBTs are Considered Dangerous
FOBTs give bettors the ability to make rapid-fire wagers with machine-like efficiciency. Since two criteria to diagnose problem gamblers and pathological gamblers is (1) escalation of gambling behaviors and (2) chasing gambling losses, the maximum bet of £100 was seen as a dangerous level of gambling.
The typical problem gambler might start out with sensible bets on a FOBTs, but escalate their gambling into unsustainable levels while a £100 max bet was allowed. A bettor might wipe out debts a handful of times with increased wagers, but the odds catch up soon enough and threaten the so-called “risk of ruin” for the gambler.
Several high profile cases involving FOBTs created a sea change in the way UK citizens look at betting shops and the FOBT gaming machines housed there. An outcry, mainly from the Labour Party, maintained a public high profile for the issue. When Tory power brokers begin to force the Tory government’s hand, the FOBT has gone mainstream.
House of Commons Debate on FOBTs
The key moment was in a Wednesday debate in the House of Commons. Though Prime Minister Theresa May was in parliament to defend her Brexit deal, the debate turned to the FOBT issue at one point.
At one point in the conservation, Conservative former leader Iain Duncan Smith (pictured above) said, “I was enormously proud of my government for agreeing to lower the stake on fixed-odds betting terminals to £2 because they have caused endless harm, terrible damage to families and it was the right decision. Since then, there has been a hiatus about the date at which this would start.”
Theresa May answered, “I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue. I know gambling addiction can devastate lives.”
FOBT Policy Change in April 2019
After the debate, things took a quick turn for the worse for the UK gambling industry. Sensing weakness, Duncan Smith, Johnson, and Greening threatened to table a finance bill and the May government moved. The date of doom has been moved up a full 6 months for British gaming operators, so they stand only 5 months away from £2 max bets on FOBTs and higher taxes on remote gambling revenues.