A lack of urgency in lowering Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) stakes could result in people losing more than £3 billion on high-stakes gaming machines, local government leaders warn today.
The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling on the Government to ensure maximum FOBT stakes are cut from £100 to £2 by spring 2019. It is publishing a new guide for councils on tackling problem gambling next week.
Following concerns raised by councils about the harm caused by the high-stakes available on FOBT machines, the Government has pledged to reduce the stakes on the machines to help tackle this.
However, the LGA is urging the Government to resist any “unacceptable” betting shop industry pressure to delay the change for as long as two years.
Gambling Commission statistics indicate that on average £5 million a day is being lost on FOBT machines, meaning a two year delay could see £3.6 billion lost before the stake is cut.
The LGA said any moves to delay or block a reduction in maximum stakes risks exacerbating the financial and mental problems FOBTs pose to vulnerable individuals and the associated costs to other public services, such as health, housing and the justice system. These costs have been estimated to be around £200m a year.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA Safer and Stronger Communities Board said:
“The LGA and others have campaigned for a number of years for a reduction in maximum stakes on FOBTs and are delighted the Government has rightly acted on our calls.
“Bringing the FOBT stake down to £2 will help to reduce problem gambling and its devastating impacts on individuals and communities. It will help prevent vulnerable players from losing £100 in seconds in a single play, which many people cannot afford to lose.
“The harm and anti-social behaviour these machines can cause has become an issue of growing national concern. Councils are extremely concerned about reports that the betting industry are blocking an early implementation. This is hugely worrying and frankly unacceptable. The Government needs to resist any pressure and move quickly to implement these changes to prevent further harm in our society.
“Failing to reduce the stakes will mean that problem gamblers and tax payers continue to experience significant costs linked to FOBTs. Problem gambling connected to these machines alone is estimated to cost the NHS, councils and the criminal justice system around £200m per year. It can also cause substantial effects to people’s health and wellbeing, as well as result in crime and disorder, family breakdowns and homelessness.”