According to recent correspondence between the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) and a Belfast Councillor, a number of bookmakers in Northern Ireland will reduce the maximum stakes allowed on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
Both William Hill and Paddy Power have decided to slash the betting stakes on the controversial machines which have been blamed for spreading gambling addictions among local residents. The decision of the gambling operators came after councillor John Kyle urged bookmakers to follow another betting company – Ladbrokes – which has previously revealed that it would voluntary slash the stakes on its FOBTs.
The beginning of January saw Councillor Kyle table a motion at Belfast City Council calling for betting companies which operate on the territory of Northern Ireland to do the same as Ladbrokes and voluntarily reduce the stakes of the betting machines in line with the rest of the UK.
The fact that a few more bookmakers have agreed to slash the existing maximum stake from £100 to £2 has confirmed by Councillor Kyle. He reminded that the motion he brought to Belfast City Council two weeks ago highlighted the support for problem gamblers and gambling addicts. He further noted that fixed-odds betting machines are considered particularly addictive and commented that the reduction of the maximum betting stake from April 2019 would make a huge difference, as it would largely eliminate exactly the addictive element of the machines.
Councillor Kyle Urges Remaining Bookmakers to Cut FOBT Stakes, Too
Apart from confirming that Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power would reduce the maximum betting stake on their FOBTs in Northern Ireland, John Kyle also urged Toals, Sean Graham and McLean to follow their decision and show they are socially responsible. According to Councillor Kyle, such a move would significantly reduce the potential damage that could be caused by gambling addiction to individuals, families and local communities.
Following some heated debates which even led to the resignation of the then-Minister of Sports and Civil Society Tracey Crouch at the end of 2018, the UK Government finally confirmed that it would stick to its initial intention to cut the maximum stake of FOBTs to £2 in April 2019. The decision came as part of the Government’s efforts to tackle problem gambling.
The problem with the new gambling legislation changes was that the crackdown would not be brought to Northern Ireland, as the Gambling Act of 2005 only applies to the territories of England, Scotland and Wales.
As Casino Guardian has previously reported, a 2017 survey commissioned by the Department for Communities found that problem gambling prevalence rate in Northern Ireland was four times higher than the same rate measured in England at the same time. Following the revelation, Ladbrokes made the decision to reduce the maximum stake allowed on its fixed-odds betting machines in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.
CARE Welcomes Northern Ireland Bookmakers’ Commitment
The proactive decision of William Hill and Paddy Power to join Ladbrokes in its initiative was welcomed by the Christian public policy charity organisation CARE, which also called on the rest of the bookmakers in the region to join the ones which made a commitment to reduce the stake.
CARE noted that research has shown that the controversial gambling machines are usually situated in economically deprived areas. As mentioned above, there are currently four times as many problem gamblers in North Ireland as in the rest of the UK.
According to the CARE Policy Officer in Northern Ireland, Mark Baillie, it has been a well-known fact that fixed-odds betting terminals have been operating in a legal grey area in the region, but there has still been concerning lack of action by the authorities so far. He shared that the region needs “full and proper legal clarity” on the issues related to FOBTs and that local political parties are the ones that would have to make a move in order to bring some changes to the status quo as the rest of the UK did.