Fixed Odds Betting Terminal stakes are to be reduced to £2 from £100 the government has announced with culture secretary Matt Hancock describing the machines as a "social blight".
I should state from the outset that I personally have never put a copper coin in an FOBT. As far as I am concerned they represent mindless gambling completely absent of any skill or knowledge whatsoever - slide in your cash, push the buttons, and watch the pretty lights. I have never understood why if you fancy an hour or two on the Roulette table, for example, you wouldn’t go to the Casino rather than stand in front of a machine in Ladbrokes. Let us be honest here ‘Fixed odds’ has two meanings!
It may be good news for old-fashioned punters such as myself in that the Bookies will surely now have to go back to laying bets of racing, football, cricket etc rather than relying on the income from FOBT’s. They may even start taking decent sized bets again and laying some proper odds that you can actually get on a Saturday morning. How I yearn for the halcyon days when they used to guarantee odds advertised in the papers for 15 minutes on a Saturday morning.
Anyhow, the stakes on FOBT’s are now limited to two quid a spin. I can only judge on my local bookmakers and I know for a fact that most of the guys that sit on these machines down my neck of the woods ain't spinning £100 a time – I’d be shocked if most of them even had a £100. So the new limit will make little difference to them; it may take a little longer to lose their thirty or forty quid at £2 a spin rather than a fiver but that’s about the only difference I can see for most of the FOBT boys.
As for those who want to play the bigger stakes? There is of course always the plethora of online opportunities - where it should be remembered you can play whilst drunk as a lord or off your nut on the Class A drug of your choice - or for that matter card games in the backroom of many pubs or cafes, we all know the ones.
It seems to me the new rules aren’t dealing with problem gambling so much as just moving the problem to new venues.
Bookmakers have unsurprisingly voiced their disappointment with William Hill saying 900 of their shops would now become loss-making as a result of the change. It has been estimated by industry experts that something like 4,000 betting shops may close as a result of the decision costing around 21,000 jobs.
This, of course, has a knock-on effect to horse racing with leading figures suggesting they are working on the basis of the sport losing £50 million a year in income from media rights and lost levy if large numbers of shops close.
No doubt this is a story that will run and run.