For those of you who have not been following the saga, FOBTs are category B2 gaming machines and are only permitted in licensed betting shops. There has been significant controversy regarding the potential addictive nature of FOBTs and the capacity for devastating losses (£100 stake every 20 seconds).
Last year, the Government completed its consultation, albeit focused on FOBTs, which included proposals to change the stake limits on other categories of gaming machine.
Many stakeholders, including the arcade and pub industry, supported a call for stake limits on lower category machines to be increased and trade bodies pushed for the maximum stake of Category C machines (£100 jackpot) to be raised from £1 to £2. The proposed stake change would enable innovation in the pub sector and enhance the provision of machines that are enjoyed by many pub customers.
On 17 May, the Government announced FOBT stakes would be reduced to £2, despite the Gambling Commission’s advised precautionary approach, which suggested a limit at or below £30. The Government also concluded that, for now, all other machine stake limits would remain the same.
Many industry commentators have expressed their disappointment that the pub sector had not been adequately considered in the conclusions. Some operators have suggested that there is a need for a clearer focus on the deregulation of machine gaming in pubs. Changes could be made to reduce the current bureaucratic burden, such as the requirement to notify local authorities of the types of machines that are
to be operated, whether this is for the two-machine ‘automatic entitlement’ or the more formal licensed premises gaming machine permit.
While the cost of a notification for two machines, currently £50, may seem arbitrary and not cover the administrative costs of the ‘application’ itself, it is likely that both the Gambling Commission and local licensing authorities will wish to retain a degree of control enabling the monitoring of machine number and operation in
alcohol licensed premises.
Trade bodies have confirmed that, in the coming months, they will encourage the Government to look again at the issues and concerns for pub operators.
The cut to FOBT stakes will not take effect for a while as the Government will need to introduce new legislation and it has agreed to provide the betting industry with time to make the necessary technological changes.
On a positive note, the FOBT stake cut may see some betting shop customers divert their attention to the gaming machine provision available in the pub sector and this could provide an enhanced income stream.