On 15th March 2016, the Lord Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked the Government “what assessment they have made of the social impact of category B2 gaming machines.” The Earl of Courtown responded on behalf of the Government.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the social impact of category B2 gaming machines.The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the Government draw upon a range of sources to monitor the social impact of gambling, not least the Gambling Commission and the health surveys that are commissioned by the NHS. The Government also evaluate the effects of their own regulations, most recently the £50 gaming machine regulations, which indicate that a large proportion of players on B2 gaming machines may now be making a more conscious choice to control their playing behaviour.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply. These gaming machines, also known as FOBTs, have been dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling”. The Government have consistently said that they would take action on their use if and when evidence of their social and personal harm became readily available. Yet it was reported in the media that last year the Government blocked a targeted review which had been requested by the DCMS. In the light of the tragic stories that continue to appear all too frequently in the media of the harm caused by these machines, will the Government now commit to a full, targeted review of FOBTs and their use?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate will be aware that in January of this year we published an evaluation of the impact of the April 2015 regulations. Ministers will consider the findings carefully before deciding on the next steps, including the possible timing of the next review of stakes and prizes.
Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, with casinos on practically every high street and mobile online gambling where there is no limit, it is clear that regulations and legislation need to keep up with technology. What is overdue—the Minister tried to respond to this in the debate last week—is the triennial review of betting limits. He would not commit then but will he commit today? It is overdue. It is important that this issue is addressed, including FOBTs. Will he announce today the start of that triennial review?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, both mentioned this point towards the end of the speeches in the excellent debate we had on Friday. I have nothing new to add at the moment. I just reiterate that my honourable friend Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport, keeps a special eye on this. She has a special interest in this issue. The Government are open-minded on the review and will set out their views in due course.
Lord Strasburger: My Lords, in his article last week in the Times, calling for urgent action on FOBTs, Mr Fintan Drury, the former chairman of Paddy Power, said:
“At the heart of the gambling sector, there is a troubling partnership between government and industry”.
Is that troubling partnership the reason that the Government do nothing but procrastinate about FOBTs and are trying to defend the indefensible?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I obviously do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. Basically, he will be aware, of course, that in April 2015 we reviewed the regulations to put a limit of £50 on what could be staked at one time without getting added clearance. The Gambling Commission also introduced new social responsibility requirements on the whole industry last year. The industry has also taken action to introduce social responsibility codes, and new planning laws introduced in 2015 now make it harder to open new betting shops on the high street.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the Minister told us that his honourable friend was keeping a close eye on the question of the triennial review. How then can it be a triennial review? Are the Government not breaching the obligations set for them in terms of holding such a triennial review?
The Earl of Courtown: Of course I would not agree with the noble Lord. My honourable friend Tracey Crouch has commented on this issue in another place and is keeping a careful eye on when the triennial review will take place. The first triennial review took place in 2013.
Lord Collins of Highbury: Which means, my Lords, that it is overdue. The last one took 12 months to conduct, so by the time it reaches a conclusion it will be well overdue—it will have taken nearly five years—so it will not be a triennial review any more.
The Earl of Courtown: Well, my Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for making it perfectly clear. I realise that I have not been able to give any dates on this and I will ensure that the House is made aware as soon as any decision is made.