Today saw the House of Commons awash with calls for further regulation of the gambling industry. During Prime Minister's Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband urged David Cameron to give local councils further powers to limit the number of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), the current allowance is four.
David Cameron's response was that empirical evidence was needed before further action was taken.
However, the debate took an interesting turn when the Prime Minister blamed problems seen in the gambling industry on the liberalisation policy of the previous government:
We have the problems created by deregulation of betting and gaming, which he is raising today and we need to sort that out.
It is curious that the Prime Minister should blame the problems seen in the gambling sector on deregulation, since his fellow MPs on the Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee, came to the opposite conclusions in a report published last year.
The report concluded that the 2005 Gambling Act, through limiting the number of FOBTs per betting shop, had created perverse incentives:
The 2005 Act has had the unintended consequence of encouraging the clustering of betting shops in some high streets by removing the demand test and limiting the number of B2 machines permitted in each premises.
The select committee's proposal to deal with this problem is a far cry from Ed Miliband's solution of greater prohibition:
We therefore recommend that local authorities be given the power to allow betting shops to have more than the current limit of four B2 machines per premises if they believe that it will help to deal with the issue of clustering. The limit of four B2 machines under current legislation should be maintained as a minimum limit to create certainty for operators.
John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said the UK's gambling laws were, "inadequate to cope with the realities of the global market in online gambling, and even seems ill-equipped to cope with the realities on our high streets."
The committee also heard evidence that the increase of FOBTs has had no impact on the number of problem gamblers. The 2001 and 2009 British Gambling Prevalence Surveys found that prevalence was 0.6 per cent for both years, while 30,000 new betting machines had been introduced.
However, the Prime Minister's attitude toward the virtues or vices of gambling deregulation appear to have hardened somewhat since his response to a question on FOBTs by Labour MP Tom Watson last year:
I do think it is worth having a proper look at this issue, to see what we can do to make sure that, yes, we have bookmakers that are not over-regulated. But, on the other hand, a fair approach and a decent approach that prevents problem gambling.