UK Government Confirms FOBT Change Now Set for April 2019

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UK Government Confirms FOBT Change Now Set for April 2019

The UK Government has performed a U-turn on the timing of the implementation of a new maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright released a written statement on Wednesday, confirming the new implementation date for the £2 FOBT maximum stake as April 1, 2019, rather than October 1, 2019.

As reported by on Monday, the move comes on the back of mounting pressure on the government, who have taken the opportunity to overturn its own decision rather than face the humiliation of defeat of its finance bill had a vote taken place.

With over 70 MPs from both sides of the House of Commons having called on the government to bring forward the implementation date to April, as initially planned, defeat seemed likely had the matter come to a vote.

Instead, Wright confirmed the maximum wager on a FOBT will be reduced from £100 to just £2 as of April next year as the government has identified the machines as a key source of problem gambling in Britain.

‘The government has listened’

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

The new maximum stake on FOBTs had been pushed back six months to run concurrently with new Remote Gaming Duty (RGD) tax terms, which is to go up 6% next year, as confirmed by chancellor Phillip Hammond in his budget policy speech on October 29.

That led to the resignation of Tracey Crouch from her position of UK Sports Minister which kick-started the protests over the start date of the new £2 maximum stake.

Support for Crouch’s stance started to snowball, culminating in Wednesday’s announcement of a U-turn. At the time of Crouch’s resignation, Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to stick to the October 2019 implementation date when accepting.

She wrote: “Having taken the decision to make this very significant cut in the maximum stakes, we must ensure that this change can be implemented in an orderly and effective manner to make sure it delivers the results we all want to see.”

Crouch Welcomes Turnaround

The change of heart will no doubt come as an embarrassment, but May has at least prevented her party from becoming the first to suffer defeat on its own finance bill in 40 years.

Crouch has since welcomed the decision to implement the reduced maximum stake in a statement released via Twitter.

“I am pleased that common sense has prevailed,” she wrote.

“… It was right for the Government to take the decision to act and the impact assessment published alongside the Gambling Review made it clear that there was an expectation to implement the reduction in FOBT stakes within 9 to 12 months, with April 2019 being the most appropriate to tie in with fiscal changes elsewhere…”

“… I am sorry that my views as the Minister in charge of the policy were not heard, but I am delighted that the collective voice of Parliamentarians, faith leaders, victims of gambling addiction and their families, press and media commentators and many members of the public have been.

“This is right and sensible on FOBTs and will, without doubt, reduce harm from these machines on our high streets.”

Under the £100 maximum stake conditions, FOBTs are thought to generate £1.8bn a year for the betting industry, worth around £400m to the government in tax revenue.

Meanwhile, the new 21% RGD levy - designed to fill the tax void left by reduced FOBT stakes - is now also set to begin in April 2019 in a blow for offshore gaming operators.

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Jamie Casey

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