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15 November 2017

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - A guide to the debate

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - A guide to the debate

A couple of weeks ago, the Evangelical Alliance and a group of churches and faith-based organisations welcomed the Government's decision to hold a consultation on aspects of gambling regulation. Specifically, the Government are seeking views on imposing a lower maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). They are also consulting on other social responsibility measures for the gambling industry as a whole. The Alliance has been concerned about the impact of gambling on communities for many years. We will be publishing more details about how you can respond to the consultation in due course, and here we've put together a basic guide to the issue, explaining why it's an important debate for Christians in the UK.

What are Fixed Odds Betting Terminals?

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), also known as B2 machines, are gambling machines found in betting shops. The maximum you can bet on such a machine in one go is £100 - though bets of over £50 require staff approval. There are over 34,000 FOBTs in betting shops around the UK, and their gross annual yield is around £1.8 billion.

Why are they problematic?

The maximum stake of £100 means that you can lose a large amount of money quite quickly. FOBTs are consistently one of the most problematic forms of gambling cited by those who contact gambling addiction charities. Betting shops containing FOBTs also tend to spring up rapidly in deprived communities - often multiple shops from a single chain to maximise the number of FOBTs permitted. This means that those who are already impoverished are also most exposed to FOBTs.

What is the Government asking about in their consultation?

The Government want to know whether the current £100 stake is too high, and whether a lower limit best strikes the balance between the desires of consumers and the needs of problem gamblers. The consultation includes a survey to gauge public opinion on the different proposals, as well as an email address for more detailed evidence. 

What are the options for a maximum stake?

The consultation offers the options of £50, £30, £20 and £2 for a maximum stake on FOBTs. However £50 still allows problem gamblers to lose large amounts of money and most organisations campaigning in this area are committed to a £2 maximum stake.

Are there additional ways of regulating FOBTs?

Yes. Regulating FOBTs was in the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos during the 2017 election - both proposed a £2 maximum stake. In addition, the Labour manifesto recommended looking at slowing the speed of play, to further reduce the prospect of losing lots of money very quickly; currently you can gamble £100 every 20 seconds. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats recommended giving new powers to local authorities to restrict the number of betting shops in a local area.

Are FOBTs the only problematic aspect of gambling?

No. While FOBTs are in the headlines at the moment, there are of course other areas of gambling policy that require attention. For example, gambling addiction should be treated as a public health issue, with strategic thought given to both prevention and treatment of it, alongside other forms of addiction. The development of online gambling is another particular risk, as there are fewer safeguards for those who struggle with gambling addiction.  In our statement we supported a system of multi-operator self-exclusion for online gambling. This would allow problem gamblers to block themselves from online gambling sites, as they can currently do so from offline gambling venues. This was promised by the Government in 2014, and a debate is occurring in parliament next week on bringing this forward. The Government consultation includes social responsibility proposals on the gambling industry more broadly.

Where can I find out more?

In anticipation of future debates around FOBTs, the House of Commons research team produced a useful briefing which can be found here.

You can also check out our member organisation CARE's page on gambling here.

How can I respond?

Information about the Government consultation is here.

The consultation closes on 23 January 2018. We will be making a response in due course and providing more detailed information about the topics under review.