Betfred and Paddy Power Remove FOBT Workaround Following Regulatory Heat

Betfred and Paddy Power have pulled their fixed odds betting terminal (FOBT) alternatives following heat from the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC).

Paddy Power FOBT

With complaints suggesting Virtual Cycling bore more than a passing resemblance to roulette, the UKGC moved to review the new game.

Giving his take on what he saw as an FOBT alternative, shadow culture minister Tom Watson called them as a “back door” way of skirting the rules.

Bookies Put Brakes on Virtual Cycling

Available in select Betfred and Paddy Power betting shops, Virtual Cycling allowed customers to bet up to £500 on the outcome of a race. To place a bet, customers had to select numbers on a roulette-style board.

After catching wind of a possible investigation, a spokesperson for Betfred said the live betting element made the game permissible.

“Bets for all these products need to be filled out on a betting slip and handed over at the counter, where our staff can interact with the customers as they do so. These are not machine games but over-the-counter bets,” they told The Guardian.

Despite the justification, UKGC executive director Helen Venn said the regulator was “monitoring developments closely.” That statement appears to have been enough to prompt a change of heart at Betfred and Paddy Power.

Big Brands Back Away from FOBT Backlash

Wanting to avert a full-scale investigation, the former removed Virtual Cycling from its shops, stating that it wanted to engage in further talks with the UKGC. Similarly, Paddy Power pulled the plug on April 3.

Although it’s no stranger to controversy, the Irish bookmaker said it never intended to roll out the game without further consultation.

“We offer our retail customers a range of number-based betting products and this game was introduced as part of a short trial in a selection of shops. This trial concluded earlier today and we will now assess the customer response and feedback before deciding whether to launch it more widely,” a spokesperson told the BBC on April 3.

It had been rumoured the William Hill was also planning to launch Virtual Cycling across its network of stores. However, in light of recent developments, the UKGC has confirmed that this is no longer the case.

The FOBT issue is one that’s dogged the UK gaming industry for the last five years. Following endless calls to implement changes, the government finally obliged in 2018.

Aiming to protect vulnerable customers, Prime Minister Theresa May greenlighted a move to cut the maximum bet from £100 to £2. With the April 1 change set to cost bookmakers millions, many have sought to implement additional revenue streams.

Offering more online products has been touted as a viable alternative. However, it seems FOBT workarounds like Virtual Cycling are a step too far for the UKGC.

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