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UK Government backflips on fixed odds betting terminal delay

FOBT machines at UK betting shops

THE maximum bet on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) will be cut from April after the UK government bowed to both public and political pressure.

Ministers had been facing a parliamentary defeat, with several Tory MPs joining opposition politicians to table amendments to the finance bill.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, said in the budget that a reduction in FOBT stakes from £100 to £2 would not take effect until October next year, a decision that handed bookmakers a £900m windfall and triggered the resignation of the sports minister, Tracey Crouch.

However, after days of speculation about a U-turn Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright issued a written statement on Wednesday afternoon confirming that the stake reduction would now take place six months earlier.

“The government has been clear that protecting vulnerable people is the prime concern, but that as a responsible government it is also right to take the needs of those employed by the gambling industry into account and provide time for an orderly transition,” the written statement said.

“Parliament has, however, been clear that they want this change to be made sooner. The government has listened and will now implement the reduction in April 2019.”

An increase in taxes on online casinos from 15% to 21%, designed to make up the tax shortfall from the restrictions on FOBTs, will come in at the same time.

The Labour deputy leader and shadow Culture Minister Tom Watson said the government showed a significant error in judgement.

“This climbdown shows the disastrous political judgment of Jeremy Wright and Philip Hammond.

“It’s very sad that it took an honourable resignation of a good minister and a cross-party revolt to achieve the blindingly obvious and necessary reforms to FOBTs.

“Whilst this is a personal humiliation for Jeremy Wright, this is a very good day for the many thousands of people whose families and communities are blighted by gambling addiction.”

Former MP Tracey Crouch, who famously quit due to the delays, said she was “delighted” with the change in tact from the government.

Theresa May signalled the climbdown during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, in response to a question from the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

Labour said it would support the amendment, meaning the government was all but certain to lose a vote on the issue next week.