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UK Prime Minister announces inquiry into FOBTs 15/09/16
• Start of the FOBT end game?

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said that her government will undertake an inquiry into fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

FOBTs have come under criticism in the UK, with campaigners unhappy that punters are able to wager up to £100 (€118/$132) a time on the machines.

A Parliamentary inquiry into fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) is set to report on the controversial B2 machines early next year.

Prime Minister May has now followed up on this by confirming a wide-ranging inquiry into the machines.

The inquiry gets under way in July and it is believed that the group will publish the findings of the ‘Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – Assessing the Impact’ inquiry early in 2017.

Derek Webb, founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which has been openly critical of FOBTs, praised the decision, saying that the organisation’s efforts will “soon be vindicated. Our position has always been that the government must try to agree with the Newham Council proposal to reduce FOBT stakes under the Sustainable Communities Act,” Webb said. “The government could be subject to a legal challenge if it does not do so; this enquiry buys time to enable that agreement to be forthcoming.

He went on to say, “The need for this FOBT enquiry is a direct result of the bookies’ state of denial and their attempts to falsely portray betting shops as the safest places to gamble. “It is also a reflection on a weak regulator and the self-serving “responsible” gambling agenda that has been mistakenly subscribed to. “The Campaign view is that under this government, it is a racing cert that this review is just the first move in further controls on gambling.”

This has been a difficult week for the UK bookmaking industry, following the broadcasting of BBC’s Panorama documentary “Why are gambling machines so addictive?” on Monday evening.

Presenting the documentary was Wendy Bendel, whose partner of seven years Lee Murphy committed suicide at the age of 36 after battling a gambling addiction, stemming from his use of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The documentary looked into how electronic roulette works, the psychological effects a gambling addict experiences when playing an electronic roulette machine and featured opinions from a number of relevant figures on the anti-FOBT side but no one was willing to challenge from the pro-side.

Previously reported -

The group, which is chaired by MP Carolyn Harris and held its first meeting last month, has already written to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, outlining its concerns about FOBTs. In the letter the group asked for a reduction in bets on FOBTs to £2.

They wrote: “Colleagues in both Houses made clear our concern about their impact on the young and vulnerable. Many have reported the tragic impact FOBTs are having on their lives.

“These machines are highly dangerous products, acting as a catalyst for problem gambling, social breakdown and serious crime in communities. It is estimated that 7,000 FOBT machines are smashed and there are 10,000 policy call outs to bookmakers as a result of FOBT-related violence every year.”

The UK’s Local Government Association (LGA) has again urged the government to cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting machines (FOBTs) in the region.

Punters in the UK can currently wager up to £100 (€129/$145) on FOBTs, but the government has faced calls from various groups to lower this to a maximum of £2.

The LGA has upheld this demand, stating that stakes should be cut to £2 on FOBT machines in high street shops and £5 in casinos, while also calling for cumulative impact tests to be introduced to enable UK councils to reject applications for new betting shops in areas where there are already a cluster of shops.

In addition, the LGA said that current licensing laws should be updated to allow councils to take health issues associated with problem gambling and anti-social behaviour concerns into account when considering shop applications. The organisation also noted that a triennial review of gaming machine stakes in the UK is now due, with the last assessment having been staged in January 2013.

Despite heightened awareness of the devastating effects of problem gambling, there is some uncertainty over whether the numbers of pathological gamblers are rising.

The British gambling prevalence survey indicates that there are around 450,000 pathological gamblers in the country – about 0.9% of the population. Although industry revenues have risen dramatically, this figure has for the moment remained stable; the results of a new Health Survey for England, expected in the summer, may shed clearer light on whether the problem is growing.

The charity GamCare, which operates the National Gambling Helpline, says it handled an 18% increase in calls from problem gamblers in 2014-15 and saw a 39% rise in clients in treatment.