The UK government is on collision course with FOBT critics after reports it will delay the introduction of new B2 rules and regulations until next October.
Chancellor Philip Hammond is set to announce the plans during next week’s budget according to a report in The Guardian newspaper. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the issue has blasted the suggestion, saying it was driven by bookmakers “misleading” officials over how much time they need to adapt.
In May, the government accepted Gambling Commission recommendations to set a new maximum stake of £2 (€2.26/$2.58) on FOBT machines, a sharp cut on the current limit of £100.
Various bookmakers have warned that the changes will lead to widespread job losses across the gambling industry, while the Treasury is set to lose around £475m in tax income as a result of the new limits.
However, the government has stuck by its pledge to cut the maximum stake, but questions remain as to when the changes will come into effect.
A delay until October 2019 would represent a six-month delay on the initially proposed start date, but swifter implementation than a 2020 launch that was reported earlier this year.
The idea behind the delay is to grant bookmakers an extra six months to prepare for the changes, with gambling companies expected to rake in £900m from FOBT machines in that period.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told the Guardian: “We will make the legislative change required as soon as possible”.
However, the APPG on the issue has hit out at the planned delay, publishing a report that states such changes can be done “as quickly as three months”.
The report, commissioned after the DCMS first announced the changes in May, sets out other key findings such as if an implementation date earlier than the original April 2019 was set, bookmakers and games manufacturers would be able to make the required changes in time.
The APPG has also said that bookmakers and games manufacturers are the only parties that will benefit from the delay, adding that, contrary to belief, jobs could be created by the changes, including 2,800 jobs in “far more profitable areas of employment”.
Carolyn Harris, chair of FOBT APPG, said: “From the evidence we heard, it is clear to us that the bookmakers are being misleading and disingenuous to claim such a long time is required to make the technical changes to FOBT machines.
“Clearly the profit they make from FOBTs provides an incentive to delay the reduction as long as possible.
“The harm being caused by FOBTs cannot go on. It is now time for the Government to do the right thing.
“It is time for it to stop bending to the will of a large corporate interest, namely the bookmakers, and implement a £2 stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals now.”
Reports of the delay comes after it emerged this week that the Chancellor is set to increase the current tax rate of 15% on gross gaming yield to between 20-25%.
The FOBT APPG said it is “not morally justifiable” to continue to gain revenue from FOBTs for another 12 months when an alternative revenue stream will have been put in place
The Chancellor is due to deliver the Budget on October 29.