Image © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
Ultimately, the laws governing licensing and control of gambling rest with the government. To complicate things, the picture above shows the Scottish Parliament: Scotland has a different legal system and some extra licensing powers, and currently they are seeking more. In relation to FOBTies there is cross-party agreement in Scotland that they should be heavily restricted.
There have been debates in the UK parliament about gambling and FOBTies in particular a three hour debate (which you can watch here if you’ve three hours to spare; just watching the first 20 minutes or so is worthwhile as you’ll see many of the issues we’ve explored on this site being raised.) around a motion from Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Clive Effiord. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture. He called not for a blanket ban on FOBTs but for power to be devolved to local councils to control their licences. The motion was defeated.
An all party parliamentary working party took evidence in 2016 and reported in January 2017 with recommendations:
- That there is now a ‘prima facie’ case for significantly reducing the maximum stake that can be wagered on a FOBT
- At the very least the stake should be reduced on a precautionary basis, in line with the principles which govern the work of the Gambling Commission, until sufficient evidence is presented to the Government that the high stakes on these machines do not cause harm
- That the Gambling Commission “have failed” to adequately advise the Government in recent years, despite the principles for regulation and licencing under which the Gambling Commission operates
- That there is a case for the maximum stake to be reduced to £2
- Government should also consider reducing the speed of spin on a FOBT in order to reduce the potential for harm to be caused and also review the number of FOBTs permitted in an individual bookmaker
- Government should address localism concerns and calls for greater controls over FOBTs at the local level. Powers should be given to local authorities to prevent the clustering of betting shops.
The government are to to make an announcement at the end of May 2017. Minutes from the latest All Party Parliamentary Group (2017) are available here.
It is clear from listening to at least some of the parliamentary debate how high feelings run, and how some core attitudes and disputes about evidence there are. Many individual MPs are deeply committed to curtailing FOBTies. As an example, take a look at this entry to one Labour MP’s blog. Graham Jones’s many-paged post covers a large area of research and is well worth reading (but bearing in mind he is campaigning against the machines). Perhaps as ordinary voters we too often fail to recognise how much detailed work some of our parliamentary representatives do.
In May 2016 an Early Morning Motion, basically a statement of support, was tabled in Parliament following the constituting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBties:
That this House welcomes the creation of the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group; acknowledges that there has been a widespread proliferation in the number of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) since the Gambling Act was passed in 2005; notes that more can and should be done by all stakeholders to prevent the social harm caused by these machines; further notes that there are nine known suicides related to FOBT use, including two tragic cases in the last 12 months; calls on the Government to further regulate FOBTs and act on a precautionary basis by substantially reducing the stake on these machines until evidence can be found that they are safe; and commits to ensuring that gambling is undertaken responsibly and with proper supervision.
It is worth noting that the signatories of support for this motion did not include any Conservative MPs. This reflects basic Conservative philosophy which supports freedom of business, and which generally places more emphasis upon personal responsibiliy.
As stated, Scotland has a different parliament and legal system, though it it is still subject to much UK legislation regarding gambling. The following video gives a fascinating insight into the Scottish Parliament’s Inquiry into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, a committee meeting which included representation from the bookmaking industry. The new powers given to Scotland by the Smith Commission after the Independence Referendum are discussed but felt to not go far enough.