UK Government U-turn on gambling machines is a major victory

While I welcome the UK Government’s climb down on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), I’m still disappointed it has taken years and the resignation of a government minister for them to finally commit to bringing forward the reduction of the maximum unit stake on FOBTs to April 2019.

The campaign to reduce the maximum unit stake has been supported across party lines, in the Scottish Parliament and in Westminster. This is not a single party issue, but is about helping protect the vulnerable in society.

Led by the Chair of the All-party parliamentary group (APPG) on FOBTs, Carolyn Harris MP and supported by Iain Duncan-Smith MP and myself, we’ve sought to bring those affected by gambling related harm to parliament to tell their stories of how these machines have ruined not only their lives but those of loved ones.

Each one of these stories have been harrowing and sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend the suffering and sheer scale of the losses endured.

Research from Landman Economics has shown that the average FOBT user loses £192 a month. In comparison, the average user of machines already capped at £2 a spin losing just £22. In my constituency of Inverclyde the losses on these machines in 2015-16, according to figures from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, was £2.96m.

These figures are startling and demonstrate the scale of the problem we face, and must address quickly, if we are to help save lives from gambling related harm. The idea of delaying the implementation of the maximum unit stake was frankly unfathomable and would have betrayed those that needed our help.

Regardless, the bookmakers, alongside the Association of British Bookmakers, and politicians with registered interests lobbied the UK Government and HM Treasury hard to fight the implementation. This has been a complete disservice to those people we are meant to represent and reneged on any semblance of promoting responsible gambling while failing to address gambling related harm.

Gambling related harm is an issue which continues to receive more attention and it’s vital the UK Government listen to the many people who are highlighting how FOBTs are having a detrimental effect on society.

The UK government has finally come to its senses and listened to the growing chorus of calls to act now, not later.

Ronnie Cowan is the Vice-chair of All-party parliamentary group on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals