Fiona has welcomed the announcement by the Government that the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) is cut to £2, from the current level of £100 – which is fifty times higher than that of other widely available gaming machines. FOBTs have been described as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ for the huge negative impact they can have on problem gamblers.
Fiona has campaigned over the past few years to see a cut in the maximum stake for FOBTs – machines which, in 2015-16, led to over 230,000 individual sessions in which a user lost over £1,000. FOBTs have come under widespread criticism for encouraging high-stakes gambling and exposing people to the risk of gambling harm – with problem gambling affecting 430,000 people in the UK annually, as well as costing the UK £1.5bn a year when its wider social welfare impact is taken into account (including issues related to employment, mental health, and financial stability), according to research by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr). Fiona has been a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group set up specifically to campaign against these measures and has campaigned with about 20 MPs consistently over some years pressing for this reduction.
Following the announcement by the Government, Fiona said in the House of Commons:
“May I thank the Minister for today’s announcement of the £2 stake and the Secretary of State for his personal determination to do what is right by vulnerable families affected by problem gambling? Some 2.3 million people self-identify as problem gamblers. The Minister said that the Department is working with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that treatment services are available. Will Ministers also work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, local councils and charities to ensure that the most comprehensive support services are available to those problem gamblers who need it most?”
Tracey Crouch, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said:
“We will work with all partners that help to reduce the harm of problem gambling. It is worth referencing the fact that it was the local authorities—led by the London Borough of Newham—that responded to this issue by calling for the stake to be reduced to £2.”
‘Fixed-odds betting terminals are the scourge of many individuals’ and families’ lives. The sums of money that they can take from gamblers – money which could be spent on feeding and caring for their families – in minutes are horrifying. It is right that the Government decided to cut the maximum stake from £100 to £2.00, to prevent the enormous harm these machines can do to vulnerable people - higher maximum stake levels of £20, £30 or £50 would still have lead to a significant percentage of gamblers losing more than £500 in minutes – a crippling amount for many.’
As early as 2014, Fiona spoke on this issue in the House of Commons, saying:
“3.5 million people are at risk of developing a gambling problem. These are not small numbers. Furthermore, 50% of problem gamblers reporting to the National Problem Gambling Clinic say that fixed odds betting terminals are a disproportionate cause of problem gambling. We can understand why that is when we hear that these high-stakes machines can take bets of £100 per game and that up to £1,800 can be lost in an hour. Every year in the UK, people lose more than £1 billion on FOBTs, of which problem gamblers lose £300,000.’
Fiona again raised this in the House of Commons in October, in a debate on the Gambling industry, saying:
‘I am pleased to hear the Minister speak about protecting the vulnerable from harm. The Centre for Social Justice report, “Lowering the Stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals” says that “the high stakes of FOBTs have compounded the social issues perpetuated by gambling.” As the Minister says, the harm of FOBTs goes ways beyond addicted gamblers to affect many families and children disastrously. I implore the Minister to consider that a reduction of £50 will not resolve the issue for those people.’