The UK bookmaker industry predicts large-scale job losses as the government prepares to announce new limits for its fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
At the end of October, the government announced it would undergo a 12-week consultation period to review FOBTs and the appropriate maximum bet limit. Proposals ranged from as high as £50 to £30, and as low as £2.
An official at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), tasked with the job of finding a new maximum from the current £100 eligible to place every 20 seconds, reportedly said a £2 limit is highly likely to be introduced once the consultation period ends on Tuesday.
Bookmakers, including William Hill, rely on the income generated from FOBTs, and investment bank Barclays estimated the betting company would lose £284 million if the government reduced the maximum stake to £2.
Anti-FOBTs campaigners have called for the reduction, stating the machines contribute to problem gambling rates and need to be reviewed to protect children and ensure a sustainable industry.
But the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) said “most problem gamblers use seven or more different types of gambling products, therefore there is a challenge for the whole gambling industry to move from a position where there is a stable level of problem gambling in this country to one where problem gambling rates are decreasing”.
The ABB added that betting shops contribute significant sums of money towards problem gambling treatments, and the organisation continuously works to improve responsible gambling measures.
“A £2 stake is effectively a ban on FOBTs, would put 21,000 people out of jobs and have huge consequences for sports such as horse and greyhound racing,” the ABB added in a statement.
There was some hope for the bookmaker industry when Karen Bradley, who launched the FOBTs review, stepped into the role of the Northern Ireland secretary and Matt Hancock took over.
Hancock is a former amateur jockey and has been integral to blocking tighter regulations in the racing industry. However, local UK media has said he has been persuaded to favour the £2 limit, as he is of the belief they take money away from sports betting and wagering on the races.
“People think that because he is a big supporter of horseracing, he wouldn’t support this direction of travel, but actually it’s the other way around,” an insider told the Financial Times.
While sources have said DCMS is yet to make a final decision, the media is implying bookmakers will likely have to restructure their businesses.
A recent report has revealed British betting companies are already in strife, with the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) finding betting shop numbers are at an all-time low. Since the regulator began recording the numbers in 2009, betting shops have gone from closing at a 100 per year rate to 300 every six months.
According to the ABB, there are 50 percent fewer high street bookies in the UK since the 1960s, when there were more than 16,500.
William Hill UK is already reviewing some of its subsidiaries, including its Australian division due to regulatory changes such as a ban on credit betting effective from February 2018.
It’s not clear if the betting company will sell its Australian betting site, or agree to merge with a local operator.
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