FOBT Controversy in 2018: Stakes Take a Downturn as Betting Limits Debate Rages On

The fixed-odds betting terminal (FOBTs) debate turned from talk into direct action in 2018, following a long-running battle between both sides of the gaming divide.


2018 finally saw the maximum stakes for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) cut to £2. (Image: The Racing Post)

FOBTs dominated the regulatory narrative as the new year dawned. With anti-gaming advocates calling for a complete ban on the high street betting terminals, Playtech chief executive Mor Weizer gave his take on the situation.

Despite Playtech itself being online-focused, Weizer said that drastic changes would simply move the goal posts.

I believe that if FOBTs would be impacted, self-service betting terminals (SSBTs), a similar machine for sporting results, would enjoy additional benefits,” Weizer told Reuters in February.

Labour Leads Call for Change

While the prospect of swapping one form of betting shop terminal for another kicked off the latest round of debates, it was Labour that really pushed the new agenda. Taking aim at the betting industry in various ways this year, the opposition party called for the maximum stake per round reduced from the then-existing limit of £100.

As part of its advisory role, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) stepped in and offered its take on the situation in March. Assessing the arguments on both sides, the regulator agreed that £100 per round was potentially damaging but said that too big a cut could cripple UK betting operators.

Taking all things into consideration, the UKGC’s report recommended a limit of £30 or lower, with a particular focus on FOBT roulette games. The recommendation was significantly more favourable than many expected and gave operators hope that any government action wouldn’t crush their bottom lines.

With the summer approaching and momentum swinging towards less severe action, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey joined a last-minute wave of support for the gaming industry. Breaking rank, the Conservative front-bencher went against a 40-MP consensus and called for any plans to be scrapped.

Slashed Stakes, But When?

Eventually, however, despite advice from the UKGC and an internal revolt, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch announced an upper limit of £2 on May 17. William Hill responded by saying the move might push it to close 900 of its shops, while Ladbrokes claimed in August that it was already £700 million out of pocket following the decision.

In contrast, Paddy Power Betfair was less pessimistic. Discussing the changes in its annual report, the company said FOBT revenue would drop by 43 percent, but that its business strategy would remain competitive and even benefit from the attrition of competitors’ venues.

We operate in high-footfall, highly competed locations, which means we are well-placed to benefit from competitor shop closures,” read the financial report.

However, while this year’s events signalled an apparent major turning point for the industry, the lack of a definitive start date on reduced FOBT limits has made it, so far, moot. And by refusing to set a definite date for when the changes will come into force, critics have accused the government of bowing to the whims of betting operators.

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