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Government makes U-turn to cut delay to £2 FOBT maximum stake 14/11/18
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• Reduction to take effect in April 2019 following MPs rebellion and minister’s resignation
 
A cut in the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) will be brought forward to April 2019 after the government backed down in the face of a growing rebellion that made allies of MPs across the political spectrum.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, said in the budget that a reduction in FOBT stakes from £100 to £2 would not take effect until October next year, a decision that handed bookmakers a £900m windfall and triggered the resignation of the sports minister, Tracey Crouch.

However, after days of speculation about a U-turn, the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright issued a written statement on Wednesday afternoon confirming that the stake reduction would take place six months earlier.

“The government has been clear that protecting vulnerable people is the prime concern, but that as a responsible government it is also right to take the needs of those employed by the gambling industry into account and provide time for an orderly transition,” the written statement said.

“Parliament has, however, been clear that they want this change to be made sooner. The government has listened and will now implement the reduction in April 2019.”

An increase in taxes on online casinos from 15% to 21%, designed to make up the tax shortfall from the restrictions on FOBTs, will come in at the same time.

The Labour deputy leader and shadow culture minister, Tom Watson, said: “This climbdown shows the disastrous political judgment of Jeremy Wright and Philip Hammond.

“It’s very sad that it took an honourable resignation of a good minister and a cross-party revolt to achieve the blindingly obvious and necessary reforms to FOBTs.

“Whilst this is a personal humiliation for Jeremy Wright, this is a very good day for the many thousands of people whose families and communities are blighted by gambling addiction.”

Theresa May signalled the potential climbdown during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, in response to a question from the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

The prime minister said she recognised the strength of feeling on the issue and that Wright would be setting out further details later on Wednesday.

Earlier, Whitehall sources said MPs involved in efforts to bring the date forward had privately been told a change of policy was imminent.

The volte-face comes less than 24 hours after Whitehall sources said the Treasury was holding firm in the face of a cross-party rebellion that left the government facing the prospect of being the first to suffer a defeat on its own budget bill since 1978.

More than 100 MPs – including senior Tory rebels such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis – had put their names to an amendment designed to force the government to bring forward the stake reduction.

Labour said it would support the amendment, meaning the government was all but certain to lose a vote that was expected to take place next week.

The final straw is thought to have been a letter sent to the chief whip, Julian Smith, on Tuesday night by 12 parliamentary private secretaries – senior MPs who work for ministers.

They are understood to have urged the government to change course and avoid a needless and embarrassing defeat, particularly given that fraught negotiations over Theresa May’s Brexit deal are happening at the same time.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, spokesman for campaign group Fairer Gambling, said it had been “nonsensical” for the government to label FOBTs a “social blight” and allow them to continue collecting gamblers’ cash for 18 months after the decision was made to curb them last May.

He said the government had been forced into a U-turn by Crouch’s resignation, saying she “deserves the highest praise”. “Lives will be saved and families won’t be torn apart as a result of this policy.”
 
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