On 22nd March 2018 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a qurstion he had tabled about the social costs of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). A transcript of his question and those of other members in response, is below:
Gambling: Fixed-odds Betting Terminals
The Lord Bishop of St Albans, To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the social costs of fixed-odds betting terminals.
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con): My Lords, the consultation on gaming machines and social responsibility measures closed on 23 January, and all responses are currently being considered. An impact assessment was published alongside the consultation in October and any additional evidence submitted, including on social costs related to FOBTs, will be taken into consideration. It was made clear at consultation that the stakes on FOBTs would be reduced, and the final position will be published in due course.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, these particular machines are a modern-day scourge which create misery and deepen poverty. Unemployed people are more likely to play these games than any other group. Citizens Advice has shown that, for every addict, six to 10 other adults are directly and adversely affected. The children and families of addicts are simply bewildered at the Gambling Commission’s suggestion that a stake of up to £30 might be acceptable. Will the noble Baroness assure the House that the needs of the vulnerable will be placed above concerns about either tax revenue or the gambling lobby, and that a £2 stake is the only answer?
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: I agree with the right reverend Prelate. Addiction to gambling has far-reaching, distressing outcomes, as we all know. We have made it clear that FOBT stakes will be cut. We are taking into account all relevant responses and evidence, and we will come to a decision soon. I am not aware that my right honourable friend the Chancellor has suggested that we cannot make cuts to FOBTs because of revenue.
Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, there is no doubt that the £1.8 billion that FOBTs generate for the gambling industry is a consideration. Like many noble Lords, I am extremely disappointed at the response of the Gambling Commission, which seems to have responded more to the needs of the gambling industry than the needs of our communities. These machines are roulette tables in every high street, where some can place £50 stakes every second or so, generating huge amounts of debt. In times past, we had strict controls and regulations on casinos; now it is all open. It is time that the Government responded. The Gambling Commission response does not abrogate the Government’s responsibilities to tackle this issue.
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: I agree with what the noble Lord says. We want to see a healthy gambling industry that responsibly generates investment and employment, but that must not be at the cost of those who are most vulnerable. Indeed, the consultation on changes to gaming machines and social responsibility was launched on 31 October and closed on 23 January, and we are now considering the responses before publishing our response. The Gambling Commission’s is only one of the responses that we will be looking at.
Lord Addington (LD): My Lords, is it not the case that, if you are on the national minimum wage earning £7.50 an hour, in a 40-hour week you can generate £300? I am under the impression that, with a £30 stake on these machines, you could bet that entire sum in under four minutes. Is that an acceptable thing to have in every high street?
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: We must remember that the Gambling Commission said that it wanted it to be £30 or below. We are looking at all the responses, and I cannot stand here and say what level we will make it. It is not set in stone that it is going to be £30; it might be much lower than that. We have to wait until we have taken all relevant decisions and looked at all the responses before we come to a final decision.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that, in the debate in your Lordships’ House initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, right across the House there was agreement that the stake should be at around £2, not 15 times higher, as recommended by the Gambling Commission? Will the Minister confirm that half of the £1.8 billion revenue last year came from these fixed-odds machines and that the Gambling Commission found that last year that 43% of users were from problem or high-risk households, many along the lines that were just described by the noble Lord?
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: Yes, I agree with the noble Lord. I feel that I am not being very helpful, because I cannot really give any definite answers because we have not come to a decision yet. As I said earlier, we are taking all the responses into account. We have had 7,000 responses to the review, and we are looking at them. The department takes this issue very seriously, and we will come out with a decision soon.
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con): My Lords, I thank the Minster for putting on record the length of time the Government are taking, and I thank the right reverend Prelate for raising this matter. No one could condone addiction to gambling, but I urge the Government to consider the role of betting shops in market towns such as Thirsk, Ripon, Malton and Filey where, particularly on race days, they bring a lot of trade to the economy and provide many jobs locally in rural areas.
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: My noble friend is right. That is why we have to be careful when we decide what we are going to do, so that we see a healthy gambling industry, but it has got to be responsible. We know it generates investment and employment, but that must not be at the cost of the most vulnerable.
Lord Tomlinson (Lab): My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that fixed-odds betting is encouraging a culture of something for nothing, that it is an odious practice, that it serves no social utility and that we would be better off—I am sceptical even about a £2 limit—were it to be abolished as a practice in Great Britain?
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: We are looking at everything. It is interesting that the Gambling Commission said:
“A reduction in maximum stakes on B2 gaming machines could”,
be useful as,
“part of a coherent strategy to reduce harm, provided the effects are carefully monitored and evaluated”.
There has got to be a joined-up approach. We know that FOBTs are a problem, and we are looking at them. There are others areas of gambling that are also a problem, and we are looking at the whole area of gambling.