high-stakes games pop up after government reduces stakes from £100 to
Bookmakers have been accused of
trying to cheat rules curbing fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) after a
Guardian investigation found high-stakes roulette-style games being launched on
the same day restrictions on the machines came into force.
in FOBT stakes from £100 to £2 was introduced on Monday, after the
government branded them a social blight following a long-running
campaign highlighting huge losses suffered by gamblers, some of them addicts.
But less than 48 hours after the industry regulator warned bookmakers
against trying to bypass the law, high street firms were accused of doing just
that. The Gambling Commission said on Monday it was investigating the new
The new games launched by bookmakers Betfred and Paddy Power
prompted condemnation from campaigners, former sports minister Tracey Crouch
and Labours deputy leader Tom Watson, who branded them FOBTs by the
back door. William Hill is planning a similar product but has yet to
Sports minister Mims Davies said: We cut FOBT stakes
to £2 to protect vulnerable people from gambling-related harm, and
operators should respect both the letter and the spirit of that change.
We are watching very closely to see how the industry reacts to
this measure and will not hesitate to act if we see evidence of harm.
Betfred began offering a roulette-style game on Monday, even as
restrictions on FOBTs were imposed despite vociferous lobbying by bookmakers,
who warned 4,500 stores could close at the cost of 21,000 jobs.
game, called Virtual Cycling, allows gamblers to place bets on a piece of paper
obtained over the counter, showing a graphic similar to a roulette table. The
game features a maximum stake of £500, five times what was possible on
the FOBT games that are now banned. Players bet on when an animated cyclist
travelling around a track will be overtaken by virtual competitors, based on
numbers corresponding to sections of the track.
A spokesman for Betfred
said: Bets for all these products need to be filled out on a betting slip
and handed over at the counter, where our staff can interact with the customers
as they do so. These are not machine games but over-the-counter bets.
The numbers from 1 to 36 echo those featured on a roulette wheel, as
does the opportunity to bet on odd or even and groups of numbers.
employee in one Betfred outlet told The Guardian: It just came in this
morning. It really reminds you of roulette.
game is called Pick n 36 and features a maximum stake of
£100, the same level as FOBTs before the new restrictions. Like
Betfreds Virtual Cycling game, players bet on numbers between 1 and 36,
as well as on other eventualities similar to roulette. A TV screen displays
hot and cold numbers, giving the impression that the
numbers selected are not random a feature heavily criticised by the
A staff member in a Paddy Power branch described
the game as the new roulette and said it had been on trial in
several of the companys 320 stores from Monday. While the stakes are as
high as FOBTs, the games are less frequent, running once every three minutes,
compared to once every 20 seconds.
William Hill is testing a game
called Wonderball, which will allow customers to stake up to £50 by
filling in boxes on a printed roulette board. A draw then takes place on TV
screens, with prizes of up to £25,000 available. A betting slip, which
will be handed out to customers if the game is launched nationwide, describes
it as a fixed odds betting event.
Its just like
roulette but the spin is on the TV screen, an employee in a William Hill
shop told the Guardian, adding that the game was not yet available but was
likely to be launched soon.
A William Hill spokesman said: We are
committed to player protection under our nobody harmed ambition and
any product we may choose to launch will be fully assessed from this standpoint
and will only be launched after full engagement with the regulator.
All of the games technically comply with FOBT laws, which cover
£100-a-spin roulette on self-service machines.
But MPs and
campaigners lined up to criticise bookmakers for apparently seeking to
circumvent the spirit of the rules.
Labours shadow culture
minister, Tom Watson, said: These new games seem like FOBTs by the back
door and look like a pretty disgraceful example of bad faith by the bookmakers
involved. They appear to be trying to cheat the system.
gambling industry fought FOBTs reform tooth and nail, never accepting the
terrible social harm they caused. They clearly havent learned any lessons
if they wont reform themselves a Labour government is determined
to do it for them.
Tracey Crouch MP, who resigned as sports
minister in anger at a proposed delay to FOBT curbs, said: Any attempts
to circumnavigate measures that reduce harm would be morally irresponsible. If
bookmakers had taken their responsibilities for player protection more
seriously there wouldnt have been a need for government or regulator
Helen Venn, executive director at the Gambling
Commission, said: We are aware of these products and we are
investigating. We have been extremely clear about our expectations in relation
to how operators should implement the stake reduction. This is why we have been
monitoring developments closely and last week we wrote to operators to remind
them of their responsibilities to ensure consumers are protected. Where we see
businesses failing to act responsibly in response to the stake reduction we
will not hesitate to step in.