Share prices tumble as MPs call for FOBT stake cut

8 December 2016

A cross-party group of MPs has demanded stricter controls on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), with a call for maximum stakes to be set at £2.

Major bookmakers saw their share prices fall significantly - with William Hill down by around 6% - as investors feared the effects of further curbs on the lucrative market.

Following a six-month inquiry, the MPs said there is a “prima facie” case to cut the maximum stake and slow the speed with which punters can make bets from once every 20 seconds.

According to a report in The Times newspaper, Carolyn Harris, chairwoman of the group, said: “From the evidence presented to us . . . the group sees a strong case for the stake being set at £2. This call is supported by many members of parliament, from all political parties and in both houses. It is also supported by a significant majority of the public.

“At the very least, the stake should be reduced on FOBTs on a precautionary basis. The government has a duty to protect the most vulnerable in our society and to act in the public interest.”

Meanwhile, GambleAware has told the UK government to look beyond stake reductions.

The charity, formerly known as the Responsible Gambling Trust, cited research from Sophro, which considered game characteristics within the machines such as speed of play, free spins, return to player, methods of payment, as well as stakes and prizes.

The report listed a number of risks, potential policy implications and evidence gaps that the charity said need to be addressed if the industry and regulatory stakeholders are to have a clearer view of minimising gambling-related harm on such machines.

Reflecting on the report, GambleAware said that the government needs to look at other factors aside from stakes, such as access to additional funds in venues, high frequency participation, automatic play, near misses and in-running betting.

The report itself put forward suggestions such as removing the option to use debit cards in remote loading, restricting the number of times debit cards can be used, placing a daily limit on the amount that can be withdrawn using debit cards and introducing restrictions on the speed of play.

“There is growing evidence that access to additional funds in a gambling venue is a significant risk factor for problem gambling; this may be because it facilitates the decision to continue spending more than planned,” Sophro lead researcher Jonathan Parke said at a GambleAware conference.

“Stopping players from spending more than they can afford is important; however, restricting stake size while failing to consider the other cost determinants, like game speed and volatility, will likely prove ineffective.”

Marc Etches, chief executive of Gamble Aware added: “GambleAware does not devise policy and does not give advice directly to policy makers but the research we commission is available for all those, including policy makers, who wish to refer to it.

“However, what we can say with confidence is that while stakes and prizes are one tool in the policy-makers’ tool-kit, research evidence suggests adjustments to these two variables in isolation are unlikely to be sufficiently effective in reducing either problem gambling, or the wider concept of gambling-related harm in Britain as a whole.

“The most effective approach will be far more comprehensive and take a wide range of actions which in aggregate, is more likely to have the desired impact.”

Related article: UK government may devolve power to ban FOBTs