The long-awaited government review into the gambling industry finally kicked off today, as a new consultation was launched by the department of digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) into possible measures to deal with problem gambling.
Despite rumours that the chancellor was intervening to reduce the damage to the treasury's coffers, it looks as if a maximum stake wil be introduced for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). Today the gambling industry took sides in the gambling machines debate.
Keep the focus on problem gambling
The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) responded to the consultation launch by saying it would consider the proposals. "We believe the focus of any final decision should be to ensure measures are adopted that will be of genuine benefit to problem gamblers," said the ABB in a statement. "Betting shops cater for over 6 million customers every year and the vast majority of them gamble responsibly.
"We know that most problem gamblers use 7 or more different types of gambling products, therefore there is a challenge for the whole gambling industry to move from a position where there is a stable level of problem gambling in this country to one where problem gambling rates are decreasing."
Severe stakes cuts concerning for bookies
A spokesperson for William Hill, one of the companies which would be hardest hit by a stake limit, said:
"This is a broad package of gambling reform. William Hill welcomes the government's recognition of both the industry's contribution to the wider economy and the importance of social responsibility measures - including player tracking.
"We remain concerned that severe stake cuts remain an option and will play a full part in the consultation process to ensure an evidence based outcome."
William Hill echoed the sentiment of other major bookies, apart from Paddy Power Betfair, whose chief executive came out in favour of a limit of £10 or less on FOBTs in a letter to gambling minister Tracey Crouch in September.
Regulation could jumpstart innovation
While traditional bookmakers who still have high street shops may be concerned by greater restrictions, tech-focused firms like betting exchange Smarkets criticised the reliance of big companies on gambling machines.
Smarkets chief executive Jason Trost said: "Many legacy operators in the gambling industry have relied too heavily on gimmicky ways to exploit customers, like FOBTs, instead of trying to innovate their product and offer better value.
"Reducing FOBT stakes by the maximum proposed amount to £2 would be a wake-up call for many operators and hopefully reduce harm stemming from addiction to these machines."
Proposals don't go far enough
Another trade body, the British Amusement Catering Trade Association (Bacta), which represents gambling arcades and betting terminal manufacturers, said that the government should abandon the notion of a £50 stake limit because it would have "no impact".
"It is only through a truly substantial reduction that we can effectively protect consumers from the risk of gambling harm. Stronger regulation has long been needed in this area: we are pleased to see it is now on the table, but to be worth anything the good intentions must now be followed through."