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FOBT review back on as online firm 888 receives record fine

FOBTs

The UK gambling industry has been waiting for the red or green light for the crackdown on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTS).

Meanwhile, the machines have divided the nation with the Church of England leading the campaign against FOBTs by highlighting the devastating effects they can have.

The Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are reportedly clashing over the review, which could reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2.

But the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, intervened when the Treasury suggested the move would be “financially crippling” due to the loss of revenue from bookmakers.

Chancellor Philipp Hammond has eased the Bishop’s concerns in a letter claiming the review of the machines will take place in coming months.

He also played down suggestions that the Treasury and the Department for Culture Media and Sport were fighting over the issue.

“Recent media reports on the status of the review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures are entirely without foundation,” Mr Hammond said in the letter.

“Both I and my department fully support DCMS’s work to ensure the UK’s gambling regime continues to balance the needs of vulnerable people, consumers who gamble responsibly, and those who work in this sector.”

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Bookmakers that own the touch-screen gambling machines will be the most affected if the maximum stake is reduced.

Gambling charities and organisations against the machines have argued that a reduction will help problem gamblers since they can currently play up to £100 every 20 seconds – in extreme cases this works out to be £18,000 an hour.

But the British Bookmaker Association pointed to flaws in the argument that a reduction in stakes will reduce problem gambling, also highlighting job losses in the industry as a consequence of reducing the maximum stake.

However, a government insider revealed there was still a long way to go until the government settles on an exact maximum stake size.

A spokesman for Fairer Gambling said the government would be caving to bookmakers if it compromised on the issue.

“Both Labour and the Liberal Democrat manifestos at the last general election committed to reducing the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2 a spin,” the spokesman said.

“If the government opts for a compromise on a reduction to £2 when it responds to the review in October, the Conservatives will open the door to criticism that they’ve failed to stand up to the bookmakers.”

The review has been delayed until an October release at the earliest after plans to publish during the UK summer were postponed.

While bookmaker operators have been holding their breaths, anti-FOBTs have seen the delay as a positive due to the lengthy consultation process suggesting that the government is preparing to take action.

But the Bishop has warned that the delay has resulted in people “blowing huge amounts of money thinking this will solve things, something that requires them to perform the most extraordinary mental gymnastics”.

Online gambling industry under fire

The online gambling industry is also under fire for issues relating to problem gambling.

Internet gaming company 888 received a £7.8 million fine last week for “serious failings in its handling of vulnerable customers”.

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) found the breach following an investigation into 888′s self-exclusion procedures.

The UKGC said that “888 also failed to recognise visible signs of problem gambling behaviour displayed by an individual customer, which was so significant that it resulted in criminal activity”.

888 released a statement regarding the investigation, revealing that it had accepted the penalty.

“888 regrets the historic failings highlighted by the review and accepts the conclusion of the review which recognises the significant lengths that 888 has gone to in order to address the concerns raised and prevent the issues highlighted from reoccurring,” the company said.