Fixed Odds On Principles

For some this is the worst of the post-war British Governments, and yet Tracey Crouch, as both Sports Minister and Minister for Loneliness, was an example of what a Member of Parliament with a social conscious could do in Government.

And then on All-Saints Day she resigned.

Keevil attempts to understand how modern gambling licensing works, what FOBTs are and why it would cause a politician of principles to resign on principle.

New Labour /  New Danger

The New Labour Government deregulated gambling in 2005 with The Gambling Act, this paved the way for super casinos and Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and was, as Councillor Vince Maple admits, a bad policy.
The previous law was more then 30 years old and did not take into account modern technology or the internet. The Gambling Act received Royal Assent on 7 April 2005 and it also made Councils the licensing authority.

Definitions, it’s the terror of knowing what this word is about

Gambling; is defined in the 2005 Act as the gaming, betting or taking part in a lottery. Or holding a referendum.
Gaming; means playing a game of chance for a prize. Young peoples future for control of your party.
Betting; means making or accepting a bet on the outcome of a race, competition or any other event; the likelihood of anything occurring or whether anything is true or not true. #FakeNews
Lottery; is where persons are required to pay in order to take part in an arrangement during the course of which one or more prizes are allocated by a process, which relies on chance. Paying student fees.

Gambling Policy

Medway Council’s latest statement of Gambling Policy was approved in 2016. It outlines the way the council will implement the legislation and issue:
– Premises licences
– Permits
– Lotteries
– Temporary and occasional use notices for short-term gambling events.

In all cases three licensing objectives must be considered;

  1. to prevent gambling from being a source of crime and disorder, being associated with crime and disorder or used for crime and disorder.
  2. to ensure gambling is conducted in a fair and open way.
  3. to protect children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling.

Medway Council states that each case will be decided upon it’s merits and that they will not “apply rigid rules” to it’s decision making. It will consider the examples of the Gambling Commissions’s guidance in respect of people living close to the premises and that business interests should be given “the widest possible interpretation.’

Betting Premises / Betting Machines

The statement goes on to say that licensing authorities will consider the size of the premises, the number of counter positions available for person to person contact and staff’s ability to  monitor the use of machines by children, young people and vulnerable people, when considering the nature and number of betting machines on offer.

And what are FOBTs?

Note: Link will take to external content

“High stake slot machines, including FOBTs, remain on probation and we will continue to adopt a cautious approach. Government will not hesitate to act should there be a sound evidence of harm.”
Richard Camborne MP, then Culture Secretary, 2005

Narrator: The Government hesitated.

Cash Machines

Section 177 of the Gambling Act did not prevent the licensee from the installation of cash dispensers. Wouldn’t want to stop easy access to the cash.

So we had a new law, and the Council had new powers to act with. What could possibly go wrong?

And are FOBTs fair?

FOBTs are capable of taking bets of upto £100 every 20 seconds and have lead to poor mental health, violence and broken families.

The Centre for Social Justice believes that the reduction of maximum stakes would reduce problem gambling and research by the Local Government Association found that violence, assault and ASBOs were associated with FOBT use.

Increased numbers of FOBTs in poorer areas creates a culture of FOBT use with implications on families and the youth population. This increases emotional stress and making the prevention of children gambling far less likely.

Success your name is Medway Responsible Gambling Partnership

In 2013-14 Medway Council agreed a partnership with betting shops after estimates that an individual could spend £18,000 an hour on FOBT. However, the group had failed to meet after a year, with the Council and the Association of British Bookmakers blaming each other.

The only real success was a unique scheme piloted in Chatham for 18 months, when 23 people self excluded themselves from gambling in 2015. The scheme has since gone national, but no local data is available on this.

Perry Comments

Enter Tracey Crouch MP; Under Secretary for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport

The MP for Chatham & ? (shrugs) was promoted to the front bench as Sports Minister in 2015

“It is important that gambling regulations strike the right balance between allowing the industry to contribute to the economy and enabling people to bet responsibly whilst ensuring consumers and communities are protected.”
Speaking as Parliamentary Under-Secretary, her role which oversaw gambling policy. 

“Players of FOBTs who want to stake more than £50 in one play are now required to interact with staff over the counter or register a customer account card.”
Tracey Crouch MP, Oct 2015

The Gambling Commission recommended the FOBT Maximum stake was cut, and this was set to go through parliament, but was delayed by the 2017 General Election.

The minister hoped that gambling companies would increase their voluntary contributions to Gambleaware, while warning that the Government would consider a mandatory levy.

Oversight Underseen

In the July 2018 Oversight and Scrutiny Committee meeting, Medway Council supported a reduction in the Maximum stake on FOBT from £100 to £2. Noting there is the possibility that the Government’s decisions may once introduced through secondary legislation, ‘lead to a reduction in betting shops, which would reduce the income stream from annual fees.’

The Council policy is currently under-review with the draft policy completed and due for publication next year.

Tracey Crouch, Junior Culture Minister, present at the White House, absent in Parliament.

Tracey enjoyed her role and was clearly good at it, representing the UK in international sporting events:

However, having spearheaded efforts on FOBT which led to May’s (the month not the PM) announcement on the reduction of the maximum stake, the MP was missing from Ministerial questions on 1 November.

Jeremy Wright, Culture Secretary, said this was because of the aforementioned US Trip, but there were reports Tracey was meeting the Chief Whip about resigning.

Tom Watson, in his role as Shadow Culture Secretary, was granted an urgent question. To ask;

Why was a verbal promise to make the change in April 2019 was amended in the budget to October 2019?
(Link to external Hansard record)

Reports on the Report were greatly exaggerated

The Maximum stake was set to be reduced down to £2, the date for this reduction appeared to be agreed as April 2019.

Council chiefs claim a delay in the implementation of a max stake would lead to an extra £3.6 Billion in wagers on FOBT, with bookmakers claiming changes would lead to 4,000 betting shop closures in high streets and 21,000 (zero hour) jobs lost.

Shares in betting companies fell on suggestions that the treasury would back limiting the maximum stake on FOBTs. Chancellor Hammond was reported to be concerned about as a shortfall in tax revenues.

The date for the reduction was moved to October 2019 with the Culture Secretary arguing this actually represented an improvement because it had been set for October 2020. Whilst reconsidering her position within Government, Tracey Crouch argued that any delay put lives at risk.

A principal player resigned to resigning on principle

Cross party support for her actions

In Medway, her neighbouring MP deciding to post this particularly tone deaf tweet instead:

Meanwhile, we commend the MP of Rochester & Strood for their announcement that also managed to avoid mentioning Crouch.

However, with implementation not set until 2020, Keevil wonders will it come into law, and if it didn’t would the MP resign from the Government over it?

It’s not the place of us impartial political commentators to explicitly state the FOBT are bad and immediate action is drastically needed. Keevil let all the people quoted above say it instead.

It’s not the place of us impartial political commentators to commend Tracey Crouch MP for resigning, when for years so many politicians have stayed on in Government regardless. Keevil left it to the people quoted above to say it instead

What do you think about FOBTs and the actions of Medway’s leading parliamentarian? Leave comments, retweet this article, share on Facebook and maybe even buy us a coffee, because this one took a while to put together.

Appendix A
The resignation letter in full

Appendix B
The pages of the Report relating to B2 Machines (FOBTs)

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