A minister from the Conservative Party, who once backed the idea to allow fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) at amusement arcades and motorway service stations is to lead an important review of gambling legislation in the UK, The Guardian revealed.
Reportedly, some proponents of gambling reforms have expressed their concern after the information that the minister for media and data John Whittingdale is being put on charge of the long-awaited gambling laws’ review by Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, almost three months after the official beginning of the review. Campaigners have reminded that Whittingdale once voted against stricter regulation of the gambling sector and has been downplaying the risks associated with the fixed-odds betting machines.
Mr Whittingdale was heading the culture select committee at the time when the latter issued a report suggesting that the UK Government should allow FOBTs to be situated at venues such as amusement arcades and bingo halls. The report, which was produced in 2012, could have also resulted in permission for the machines to be installed at motorway service stations in the UK. The proposed measures, however, were not adopted by the Government of Prime Minister David Cameron.
At a later stage, Mr Whittingdale tried to play down the seriousness of the FOBTs’ addictive character, although surveys held and sponsored by the National Health Service (NHS) have consistently proven that fixed-odds betting machines are associated with higher problem gambling rates in comparison to other forms of gambling.
Whittingdale Used to Continuously Oppose Stricter Measures against the UK Gambling Industry
Things escalated in 2014, when during a debate in the House of Commons, Mr Whittingdale stated that it is not possible to lose large sums on FOBTs. His words, however, were proven wrong by a later study of the UK gambling regulatory body, which found that Brits playing the fixed-odds betting machines lost over £1,000 on more than 233,000 occasions in only ten months.
Eventually, the UK Government reduced the maximum stake allowed at the FOBTs from £100 to £2, describing the machines as a dangerous form of gambling.
After the appointment of Mr Whittingdale in charge of the gambling legislation review, the chair of the cross-party Members of Parliament group investigating gambling-related harm – Carolyn Harris – shared her concern with the change in the review’s ministerial oversight. According to her, Mr Whittingdale was not an obvious choice, considering his history of being one of the main supporters of the gambling sector.
As highlighted by The Guardian, old voting records show that Mr Whittingdale has continually opposed proposed measures aimed at imposing tighter regulation on the gambling industry.
The change of the study’s leader is considered to be aimed at offsetting the workload of Huddleston, who has been busy trying to reduce the negative impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on sport, tourism and heritage. As explained by a spokesperson of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Minister Whittingdale fully supports the thorough evidence-led review of the UK Gambling Act in order to make sure the piece of legislation is fit to serve the needs of the gambling industry in the digital age.