Curbs to be placed on stakes at fixed odds betting terminals

Out-Law News | 17 May 2018 | 3:42 pm | 3 min. read

A £2 cap on the stake that gamblers will be able to place when playing fixed odds betting machines (FOBTs) is to be imposed in Britain, the UK government has announced.

The move, confirmed by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), comes after the government carried out a review on changes to gaming machines and social responsibility measures. The British gambling regulator, the Gambling Commission, gave its backing to the new £2 limit earlier this year. Currently, the maximum stake for B2 machines is £100.

"B2 gaming machines … are an outlier in the world of high-street gambling because of the speed with which it is possible to lose large amounts of money," said Tracey Crouch, minister for sport and civil society in England, expressing her view of the need for "urgent additional regulation".

"There remain consistently high rates of problem gamblers among players of these machines and a high proportion of those seeking treatment for gambling addiction identify these machines as their main form of gambling," said Crouch. "We are concerned that factors such as these are further amplified by the relationship between the location of B2 gaming machines and areas of high deprivation."

"Following analysis of the evidence received at consultation, £2 has been found to be the stake limit that would most substantially impact on harm by reducing the ability to suffer high session losses, while also targeting the greatest proportion of problem gamblers, and mitigating risk for the most vulnerable players for whom even moderate losses might be harmful. Even cutting to £10 would leave problem gamblers, and those most vulnerable, exposed to losses that would cause them and their families significant harm," she said.

However, the Association of British Bookmakers warned about the potential impact of the planned reforms, which will not impact on casinos.

It said: "We expect over 4,000 shops to close and 21,000 colleagues to lose their jobs. The independent expert advice warned that this would simply shift people, the majority of whom gamble responsibly, to alternative forms of gambling where there is less chance of human interaction and its impact on problem gambling levels is far from certain."

New regulations are to be laid before the UK parliament to give effect to the reforms, but no timeframe was outlined by the government for that to happen. DCMS said it will engage with the gambling industry and wants to ensure betting shops "are given sufficient time to implement and complete the technological changes".

In its consultation response paper (78-page / 599KB PDF), the government confirmed that no other changes will be made to rules on stakes, prizes and allocations of other types of gaming machines "for the time being", but said gambling operators will be expected to "improve player control measures" for B1, B2 and B3 machines on-premises. The Gambling Commission is to work with the operators on such measures.

The government also set out its expectations on social responsibility in the context of online gambling in its paper.

It acknowledged that new measures to protect players from harm have been introduced in recent times, including new rules which require operators to provide customers with more information about their gambling activity to help them manage their time and spend, to the initial launch of a new multi-operator self-exclusion scheme. However, it said "industry must do more to develop and implement more effective approaches to customer interaction and harm minimisation".

"We expect operators to act now and to trial a range of harm minimisation measures using customer data to strengthen their responsible gambling policies and processes," DCMS said. "Interventions should be evaluated to ensure they are effective and outcomes should be shared across industry, to raise standards across the sector. If operators fail to demonstrate sufficient progress then the government and the Commission has powers to introduce additional controls or restrictions on the online sector."

The government plans to chair a meeting with gambling and technology companies to establish "best practice" around the use of algorithms to identify potential harmful play.

The government also addressed the regulation of gambling adverts in its paper. It highlighted new standards for gambling advertising that were set earlier this year, and the fact the Gambling Commission is also likely to outline new licensing requirements around advertising in July. It said a new responsible gambling advertising campaign will also take place later this year, and that its internet safety strategy could make provision for "extra protections around gambling advertising, particularly on social media".

DCMS also announced that Public Health England (PHE) is to conduct "an evidence review of health aspects of gambling-related harm". The review findings will "inform action on prevention and treatment", it said.

Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said: "Whilst we welcome the reduced stake, that alone will not be enough to address the risks of harm that can come from all forms of gambling."

"That is why we will continue to act in other ways to reduce those risks – including delivering enhanced consumer protection for online gambling in the areas of customer verification, fairness and interaction, implementing strong penalties for businesses who breach advertising guidelines, and reviewing gambling product characteristics to identify whether particular features pose greater risk of harm than others," he said.