THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has said that he will keep a watchful eye on the Government’s plans to regulate gambling machines, after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that a long-awaited review would not be published until the autumn.
The Government agreed last October to review how fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) operated, amid growing concern that the machines — which allow gamblers to place bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds — were ruining the lives of gambling addicts and had even caused suicides (News, 28 October).
Before the the General Election, Dr Smith introduced a Private Member’s Bill which would give local authorities the power to regulate the number of FOBTs in their area.
In February, the General Synod voted unanimously in favour of a motion which demanded that local authorities be given such a power, and for the maximum stake on FOBTs to be reduced from £100 to £2 (News, 17 February).
The latest report from the Gambling Commission, covering the 12 months up to September last year, suggested that British gamblers lost a record £1.82 billion on FOBTs. Each machine made an average of £53,000 a year.
Reports over the weekend, however, suggested that the Treasury was pushing back against proposed curbs on the machines because of the impact lessening usage could have upon tax receipts.
The DCMS review was originally expected to be released earlier this summer, but the minister responsible for civil society, Tracey Crouch, has told MPs not to expect it until October at the earliest.
In a parliamentary answer, Ms Crouch said that the purdah period before June’s General Election had come just when the different departments were trying to sign off on the findings. As such, the final stage would have to begin again, pushing the publication date back by several months.
Asked to comment on speculation that FOBT regulations would be watered down, a spokeswoman for the DCMS would only confirm that the review would be published in the autumn.
Dr Smith said that he would not be letting up his fight for tougher regulation until the Government acted.
“The Government have promised that the review will be published during the autumn,” he said on Monday. “I will continue to campaign about this issue which is causing so much harm.
“This is a particularly insidious form of gambling which for a minority of people is having a devastating effect — in some cases leading to the loss of homes and even life. I’m convinced that this form of betting urgently needs to be regulated more effectively.”
The chief executive of the Christian charity CARE, Nola Leach, said: “Theresa May’s government was supposed to be defined around the idea of creating a Britain that works for everyone, but it’s clear that FOBTs do not fit into this narrative.
“FOBTs may work for the bookmakers and the taxman — but not for problem gamblers, their families or society as a whole.
“If additional revenues need to be raised then we urge the Prime Minister and Chancellor to find other means of doing so that do not depend on the exploitation of vulnerable people.”