With permission, I will make a statement on the gambling review and the publication of our response to the consultation on proposals for changes to gaming machines and on social responsibility requirements across the gambling industry.
In October 2016, the Government announced a review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures to ensure that we have the right balance between a sector that can grow and contribute to the economy and one that is socially responsible and doing all it should to protect consumers and communities from harm. Underlying that objective was a deep focus on reducing gambling-related harm, protecting the vulnerable and ensuring that those experiencing problems are getting the help they need. Following a call for evidence, we set out a package of measures in a consultation that was published in October last year. The package included social responsibility measures to minimise the risk of gambling-related harm, covering gambling advertising, online gambling, gaming machines and research, education and treatment.
The consultation ran from 31 October 2017 to 23 January 2018. We received over 7,000 survey responses from a wide range of interested parties and more than 240 submissions of supplementary information and evidence from the public, industry, local authorities, parliamentarians, academics, charities and faith groups. We welcome the responses to the consultation and, in preparing our conclusions, we have reflected on the evidence, concerns and issues that have been raised. We considered the responses alongside advice that we have received from the Gambling Commission and the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, and we have set out measures on gaming machines, as well as action across online, advertising, research, education and treatment and, more widely, the public health agenda in regard to gambling.
Before I set out the detail of the package of measures, let me say that we acknowledge that millions of people enjoy gambling responsibly and that we are committed to supporting a healthy gambling industry that generates employment and investment. However, over the course of the review I have met many people who have experienced gambling addiction and those who support them, including relatives of those who have sadly lost their loved-ones to suicide as a result of the impact of gambling. In addition, I have visited the incredible treatment services that are there to support addicts. We are clear that gambling can involve a serious risk of harm to individual players, as well as to their families and to the communities they live in, and we must ensure they are protected.
The Government are satisfied with the overall framework of gambling regulation but, as part of our action to build a fairer society and a stronger economy, we believe that when new evidence comes to light, we need to act to target any gambling products or activities that cause concern. It is important to acknowledge that, although gambling-related harm is about more than one product or gambling activity, there is a clear case for the Government to make targeted interventions to tackle the riskiest products, with the objective of reducing harm.
One product in particular, B2 gaming machines or fixed odds betting terminals—FOBTs—generated enormous interest throughout the review process. At consultation, we set out the evidence for why we believe targeted intervention is required on B2 gaming machines, and we set out the options for stake reduction. Although overall problem gambling rates have remained unchanged since the Gambling Act 2005, it is clear that consistently high rates of problem gambling remain among players of these machines. Despite action by industry and the regulator, a high proportion of those seeking treatment for gambling addiction identify the machines as their main form of gambling.
According to the latest available data, across Great Britain 11.5% of players of gaming machines in bookmakers are found to be problem gamblers, and a further 32% are considered at risk of harm. In England, 13.6% of players of FOBTs are problem gamblers—the highest rate for any gambling activity. We are concerned that such factors are further amplified by the relationship between the location of B2 gaming machines and areas of high deprivation, with players tending to live in areas with greater levels of income deprivation than the population average. We also know that those who are unemployed are more likely to most often stake £100 than any other socioeconomic group.
Following our analysis of all the evidence and advice we received, we have come to the conclusion that only by reducing the maximum stake from £100 to £2 will we substantially impact on harm to the player and to wider communities. A £2 maximum stake will reduce the ability to suffer high session losses, our best proxy for harm, while also targeting the greatest proportion of problem gamblers. It will mitigate risk for the most vulnerable players, for whom even moderate losses might be harmful. In particular, we note from gaming machine data that, of the 170,000 sessions on B2 roulette machines that ended with losses to the player of over £1,000, none involved average stakes of £2 or below, but losses of that scale still persist at stakes of £5 and £10.
The response to our consultation has been overwhelmingly in support of a significant reduction in B2 stakes. The majority of respondents to the consultation submitted opinions in favour of a £2 limit, indicating strong public approval for this step. I am grateful for the cross-party work on this issue, and I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), the latter having been a very strong supporter of change when he was in government.
Elsewhere in the industry, we are, for the time being, maintaining the status quo across all other gaming machine stakes, prizes and allocations. We have, however, agreed to an uplift for stakes and prizes on prize gaming, which we consider to be sufficiently low risk.
We are aware that the factors that influence the extent of harm to a given player are wider than any one product, and include factors around the player, the product and the environment. The response therefore also sets out action on: increasing player protection measures on other gaming machines on the high street; increasing protections around online gambling, including stronger age verification rules and proposals to require operators to set limits on a consumer’s spending until affordability checks have been conducted; doing more on research, education and treatment of problem gambling, including a review by Public Health England of the evidence relating to the public health harms of gambling; enhancing protections around gambling advertising, including a major multimillion pound advertising campaign led by GambleAware on responsible gambling, to be launched later this year; and filling the gaps in evidence on advertising and harm, with substantial new research commissioned by GambleAware on the effects of gambling advertising and marketing on children, young people and vulnerable groups.
Looking ahead, we will also be considering the issue of 16-year-olds playing national lottery products as part of the next licence competition for the national lottery. We aim to gather evidence on this issue with sufficient time to consider it fully ahead of the next licence competition. Changes to the B2 stake will be effected through regulations in Parliament. The move will need parliamentary approval and, in recognition of the potential impact of this change for betting shops, we will also engage with the gambling industry to ensure it is given sufficient time for implementation.
In conclusion, we want a healthy gambling industry that contributes to the economy, but also one that does all it can to protect players and their families, as well as the wider communities, from harm. We will work with the industry on the impact of these changes and are confident that this innovative sector will step up and help achieve the necessary balance. I commend this statement to the House.
Good morning to you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of her statement, and I refer hon. Members to my entry in the register.
At the outset, let me warmly congratulate the Minister on her decision today. I am not going to be mealy-mouthed about it: we are absolutely delighted that the Government have decided to deliver a Labour party manifesto pledge. Today, we have had this on FOBTs and yesterday we had the railways taken back into public ownership—it is just a shame we could not make it three with the Leveson inquiry earlier in the week. I genuinely believe this is a great moment; it is the right decision and I applaud the Minister for making it. Having been in government, I know how tricky it is to reach a consensus on these complex regulatory issues, and she deserves recognition from those in all parts of the House for getting this through. We should also recognise that this is a victory for the many people in this House who have led this campaign, particularly my friend, colleague and fellow deputy leader, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who has fought tirelessly for this, alongside other Members, including the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), whom I also regard as a friend.
During this process, we have seen how some parts of the gambling industry have stood in defiance of Ministers, civil servants, parliamentarians, clinicians and other professionals, and have sought to delay at every turn common-sense decisions that would have given comfort to those who have been afflicted by these machines. There is a lesson in this: if the UK is to retain its reputation for innovative, light-touch regulation and responsible gambling, the wider industry needs to start taking its responsibilities and obligations to players seriously. Any Government, whatever their political hue, will be deeply concerned about the situation we find ourselves in: we have 430,000 gambling addicts; 2 million vulnerable players at risk of developing an addiction; and 25,000 young people who gamble every week. It is incumbent on the industry now to show the Government and Parliament its progress on how it shoulders these responsibilities and uses its £13.8 billion a year yield to deal with harms created by gambling. Across the industry we have global leaders in innovative online gambling products who are seeking solutions to these issues through investment and technology. However, too many household name companies have belligerently denied the facts in front of their noses, so our message today is clear: clean up your act or a future Labour Government will do it for you.
In that spirt of unity and cross-party co-operation, I would like to make a few suggestions to the Minister, if I may—[Interruption.] I say that genuinely; there is no need to laugh. We understand there are concerns about revenue reduction, and the Minister has suggested she will increase remote gaming duty to cover this. Would it not be more appropriate to close the loophole that allows British online gambling companies based in Gibraltar to avoid paying tax? Secondly, the Government have chosen not to implement a statutory levy for research, education and treatment at this point, but there was a significant call for that, including from some gambling industry leaders. So will she think again on it, in order to guarantee that resources are available for treatment? Thirdly, we all want addicts to access the most appropriate treatment, so will the Government please start to collect proper data in that area? I have asked a number of questions to Ministers about how many addicts are receiving treatment on the NHS and how much treatment costs the NHS, but we have been told time and time again that the Departments do not hold or collect that data. I am sure we all agree that if we are to understand and better treat this problem, we need better data.
Fourthly, some of the largest companies affected by this decision have argued for restrictions on betting advertising for football in particular. Given that that is also the No. 1 concerned expressed by parents, it seems to me that the Government have been hasty in ignoring it.
Finally, our view is that the 2005 Act is no longer fit for purpose. We need a new gambling Act that is fit for the digital age. How draconian that new Act might be is dependent on how the industry chooses to engage with Parliament. We call on the innovative and responsible new leaders of the gambling industry to show us that they take their obligations seriously, and to work with us to alleviate problem gambling.
In conclusion, cutting the maximum stake on FOBTs is a big step in the right direction, but it is just one part of the puzzle. In praising Ministers, I urge the Government to use the new spirit of consensus to introduce a new gambling Act, fit for the purposes of the digital age.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Rather talk about Labour manifestos, perhaps I should remind the House that it was Labour legislation that caused this issue. However, I will be generous and say that I think it was an unintended consequence of the liberalisation of the gambling industry. I was a staffer in Parliament at that time and clearly remember the significant interest in casinos and supercasinos; much of the discussion about gaming machines was lost in that debate.
The hon. Gentleman raised several key points, starting with the closing of loopholes for operators in Gibraltar. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reminds me that it was his private Member’s Bill on offshore gambling that started the process that led to our changing the legislation to require Gibraltar-based operators to pay their gambling taxes to the Exchequer, so I feel we have already dealt with that issue. While I am referring to the Secretary of State, may I acknowledge his work to progress the response to the review? His support on this issue has been phenomenal and I am incredibly grateful for the work he has done.
We have taken the decision not to introduce a statutory levy at this point. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the comments I have made at various events, when I have referred to this situation as the last-chance saloon. We hope that the work we are doing to reduce FOBT stakes will reduce the vulnerability and the harm, but that is not to say that we do not need to improve treatment services. We are working incredibly hard with the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England to gather together the evidence that the hon. Gentleman cites, so that we can get the right treatment services in the right places. We recognise, as do colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, that treatment services are currently limited, and have perhaps been the Cinderella service in the addictions sphere. We are working on that and have had some great advice from across the clinical spectrum on what we need to do.
On advertising, I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and those of others who have raised the issue. Since the publication of the review we have made excellent progress on strengthening the rules on gambling advertising, including the publication by the Committee of Advertising Practice of tough new guidance on how to protect the vulnerable. From June, a responsible gambling message will appear on-screen throughout all TV gambling adverts, not just at the end, and the Gambling Commission has already consulted on expanding the sanctions for breaching the advertising code. There is much more to come, including the advertising campaign to which I referred, as well as the work to look into how we can protect children that will be done later this year. We are also going to have some research on the effect of marketing and advertising on children and young people. Although we may not have made that tough decision now, it is certainly not a closed issue.
I rise simply to congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on arriving at this decision. This campaign has embraced all the House, including the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who have joined in the efforts, so this is not a day for party political comments. I simply say that back in 2005 many Members from all parties were concerned about the legislation that was going through, not just on gaming machines but on supercasinos. Does my hon. Friend agree that notwithstanding the fact that there are people in this House who believe this is an issue of choice, when there is clear evidence that normal choice is bent by addiction and by the addictive level in the way that people exercise their choice, that is when Government should step in? This is not about the nanny state; this is about righting a wrong and helping those who need help.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. As I said in my opening statement, this is not about one particular product, although what we are doing is targeting intervention on the most harmful product, and the most harmful product on our high streets at the moment is the fixed odds betting terminal.
I thank the Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
I welcome the announcement by the Government to reduce the maximum unit stake on FOBTs to £2 per spin. This is something that I have strongly campaigned for in my role as vice-chair of the all-party group on FOBTs, alongside other MPs, such as the extremely hard-working chair of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith).
I praise the Minister for her action on this issue and her acknowledgement of what harm these machines do. I do not believe that we would have achieved this outcome without her continued efforts in persuading her colleagues of the need for action on gambling-related harm.
Gambling-related harm is an issue that rightly continues to receive more attention. It is vital that the Government continue to listen to the many people, such as Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, and the organisations that are highlighting how gambling is becoming more prevalent, especially among young people. According to the Gambling Commission’s statistics, more than half a million children are gambling every week. Therefore, I am glad to hear the Minister say that gambling-related harm is about more than any one product or gambling activity and that the Government intend to enhance protection around gambling advertising, including a major multi-million pound advertising campaign. I welcome the fact that this campaign promotes responsible gambling.
I acknowledge the comments that the Minister made earlier in response to the Opposition that education to prevent gambling-related harm has to be funded. I believe that to fund such education, to promote social responsibility and to safeguard vulnerable groups, the Government should introduce a statutory levy on bookmakers to fund GambleAware and its activities to tackle gambling-related harm.
I welcome today’s announcement and hope that common sense and cross-party collaboration can continue in this area. I ask the Minister to work with the Scottish Government on any legislation that may already be devolved, or may be more appropriate to be devolved, to ensure the success of this proposal. Hopefully, this can be a platform to implement more legislation to help those affected by gambling and those who may become problems gamblers.
It was remiss of me not to acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s work on this cross-party campaign and I do apologise for that. I thank him for mentioning the work of Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, because having that kind of clinical expertise and real insight into the effect of addictions has been enormously helpful.
As I said earlier, we have ruled out a statutory levy at this point, but not forever. We have seen from the voluntary levy a 16% increase in the amount of money going into research, education and treatment, and we hope that from the measures that we introduce today, we will reduce the harm and that we will therefore see a significant rebalancing of the income from the levy with the treatment and the services.
On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I had the pleasure of speaking with the Minister from the Scottish Government, and I have assured her that we are very happy to work closely together in respect of the devolved legislation that may or may not be required.
It has come to something when Members of this House, particularly those on the Labour Benches, cheer when a decision is made that will put up to 20,000 decent working-class people out of their jobs when there is no evidence to do so. That was even admitted by Adrian Parkinson who ran the Campaign for Fairer Gambling and who, last week, wrote an article in The Daily Telegraph saying that there was actually no evidence behind the campaign that he was running, which has taken in all these Members across the House. By how much has the Minister’s Department estimated that the problem gambling rate in this country will reduce as a result of this decision, and what evidence does she have for making that estimate?
Some 176,000 people who play FOBTs are problem gamblers, which is currently the highest rate of gambling activity by product. We respect and understand that this decision may well have an impact on jobs in bookmakers, but we have addressed the harm of fixed odds betting terminals and we are working very closely with the industry to support bookmakers to continue to be able to grow and contribute to the economy. On the impact on problem gamblers, we expect this decision to have a significant impact on the reduction of problem gambling.
I rise to be completely non-partisan and to beg your indulgence, Mr Speaker, and that of the Minister, while I say a heartfelt thank you on behalf of the very many thousands of people who have contacted me to say that these machines have destroyed their lives or the lives of those they love and taken away their homes, their dignity, their self-respect. I also say thank you to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), a fellow Labour deputy leader, to the Secretary of State and to the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), and a very special thank you to my friend—he is indeed a friend and has been a dear friend to me over this issue—the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). On behalf of everyone whose lives they have made so much better today, I thank them all.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, who has been a stalwart campaigner on this issue. As she pointed out, this is not just about individuals; it is about their families and the communities they live in, which is why it was important we took this decision.
It is most welcome that the Government have recognised that my father’s weekly pools coupon, my mother’s visit to the bingo hall and my aunt’s gambling, which, with working-class lyricism, she described as her “flutter on the gee-gees” were a far cry from the brutalising effects of these gambling machines. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, who met me and others, and to his ministerial team for doing the right thing, rather than the easy thing. Will they now do the right thing by taking a very close look at online gambling and particularly online gambling that targets young children by using cartoon images and other devices to draw them in? This is an urgent matter. As Members on both sides of the Chamber have said, this is about social responsibility, and social responsibility is not the preserve of any one party in the House.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is absolutely right that a great deal of further work needs to be done to protect vulnerable people, particularly children, from the harm of online gambling. We are looking at all those issues, and I expect the Gambling Commission to take a robust look at some of those he raises.
I congratulate the Minister and all those Members who have fought consistently for this decision, but she, like me, will know that there is also B3 content on machines in betting shops, and reducing the stake to £2 on the B2 content means people can now lose money faster on the B3 content. What will she do to research that fact and to make sure that people do not just migrate to the B3 content and that the problem does not thereby continue?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We continue to monitor B3 gaming machines—we are concerned about their growth—and to consider increased player protection measures. We continue to keep this category of machine, along with everything else, under review.
I welcome the Government’s decision to cut the maximum permissible stake for B2 machines, but on what empirical research did the Minister base her decision to go so much further than the recommendation of the Gambling Commission that £30 or below would offer the necessary protection?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who started on this journey with me three years ago. We received a significant amount of evidence. The Gambling Commission actually recommended a cut to between £2 and £30, and we have gone to the lowest end, because that is what we think will most reduce harm.
The Minister has told us that when new evidence comes to light, we need to act to target any gambling products that cause concern. Will she look at the problems of online gambling emerging through young people playing video games and third-party websites selling items from so-called loot boxes? Belgium is that latest country to take action. What are the Government doing to work with the industry to tackle this issue?
Quite simply, what is illegal offline should be illegal online. The Gambling Commission is live to this issue and is looking at it closely. We expect it to maintain close sight of the emerging issues regarding vulnerability and gambling being targeted at children.
What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that these measures might have on online gambling, especially problem online gambling?
The whole review was about reducing the harm caused by problem gambling. This is not just about one particular product. We are looking at the whole suite of products, including online gambling, and that is why we have set out a full package of measures to help ensure that we have a socially responsible gambling sector.
May I join others in personally congratulating the Minister? This announcement is a considerable personal achievement for her, and she should be very proud of it. My concern relates to the impact on people’s mental health and, indeed, the number of people who lose their lives as a result of gambling addiction. Will she think again about the case for a statutory levy on the basis of the principle that the polluter should pay? The cause of the damage is so significant that there seems to be a powerful case for the industry to contribute to the cost of treatment.
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s views on the connection between mental health and gambling. I met a significant number of gambling addicts who had contemplated suicide, in part because of the problem that they faced. It was desperately sad to hear those stories. We are working with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care to improve research, education and treatment, and we will continue to ensure that the industry continues to pay what it should pay to support those services.
I warmly congratulate the Minister on reducing the fixed odds betting terminals stake to £2, given the damage they do to family life and the huge waste of police time involved. May I express the hope that this decision heralds her Department also doing the right thing regarding the scourge of junk food advertising to children that we will need to deal with shortly?
My hon. Friend serves on the Health Committee and I know that he heard some significant evidence from a professor about the impact of gambling addiction, particularly on suicide rates among young men. I am grateful for his support.
Has the Minister seen this morning’s statement from the British Horseracing Authority, which says that it understands the need to tackle problem gambling, but also points out the unique relationship between betting and racing? Will the Government outline how they will mitigate any potential financial loss to our great sport, and does the Minister agree that a responsible recreational flutter on the gee-gees is to be enjoyed—and, indeed, is enjoyed—by millions of people across the country?
Many people bet on horses day in, day out, and do so incredibly responsibly. I assure the House that the Secretary of State would not have allowed anything to go ahead that had an impact on horse-racing or race courses. We will be working closely with the BHA, its chairman and its chief executive on how we can take forward this work. The Secretary of State has today written to the BHA to work through some of the transitional issues, and we continue to support horse-racing first and foremost.
May I thank the Minister for today’s announcement of the £2 stake and the Secretary of State for his personal determination to do what is right by vulnerable families affected by problem gambling? Some 2.3 million people self-identify as problem gamblers. The Minister said that the Department is working with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that treatment services are available. Will Ministers also work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, local councils and charities to ensure that the most comprehensive support services are available to those problem gamblers who need it most?
We will work with all partners that help to reduce the harm of problem gambling. It is worth referencing the fact that it was the local authorities—led by the London Borough of Newham—that responded to this issue by calling for the stake to be reduced to £2.
I was pleased that the Minister mentioned the relationship between the location of B2 gaming machines and areas of high deprivation. In the three Hull constituencies, some £9.1 million was lost in 2015-16 on fixed odds betting terminals. Does more need to be done in our schools to raise awareness of gambling addiction?
As the hon. Lady knows, I am very familiar with Hull and its areas of deprivation. There are similar aspects in my constituency, where I have seen an increase in the number of bookmakers and a proliferation of these machines in deprived communities. We are always happy to work across the board with departmental partners to increase understanding and awareness of gambling harm, and we will also do that through wider work beyond schools on advertising.
I warmly congratulate the Minister on her personal commitment to this and all those who have campaigned so hard. This is a great day. I know that the Minister recognises the devastating mental health consequences of gambling addiction. This also has to be about protecting those who are struggling with their mental health at the moment and in the future, so will she meet me to discuss the next stages of the review?
I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee. I was struck by the Committee’s report on suicide, because in previous work on that really sad subject, gambling addiction has not really been highlighted as a potential concern. I am happy to meet and discuss that further.
Credit cards amount to 10% to 20% of online deposits, effectively funding gambling by borrowing, which we all know can lead to unsustainable debt and further mental health problems. Will the Minister consider banning credit card betting?
As part of the further work that the Gambling Commission will be doing on online gambling harms, it will consider whether gambling using credit cards online should continue to be permitted. We will work to develop a more detailed understanding of that issue and the associated risks of gambling on credit.
Many islanders are very grateful for this decision by the Minister and the Secretary of State, and I welcome it strongly. Is the Minister aware that on the Isle of Wight more than £19.9 million was lost on these wretched machines between 2008 and 2016? Does she agree that there are many better ways of spending that money? Does she also agree that the gambling industry, in its almost parasitic reliance on these wretched fixed odds betting terminals, has shown itself not to be as responsible as, frankly, it should be?
I am always grateful for support from the island. I was not aware of those specific statistics, but I am not surprised. We will continue to work with everybody to ensure that we create a responsible gambling industry.
In the House, we are sometimes divided, but I commend the Minister for this action, which we will look back on as a major step forward in public health. In my city of Glasgow, £35 million a year is frittered away on FOBTs. When will the regulations come before Parliament? In the face of a very aggressive campaign by the Association of British Bookmakers, we need to stand firm on this major public health issue.
I know that you, Mr Speaker, and other Members of the House will recognise that there is a process that we have to go through. We expect the regulations to come before the House later this year, with reasonable implementation time following that. I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that there is a parliamentary process that we have to go through, but today we are pleased to announce the policy that the maximum stake will be reduced from £100 to £2.
I strongly welcome this announcement, which addresses an issue that has destroyed far too many lives. I appreciate that advertising is regulated, but we have all noticed the dramatic increase in gambling advertising online and on TV, preying on the vulnerable. What more can we do to address that?
There has been significant progress since the review started, and we will see some significant differences as the year progresses. We have had some firm conversations about the tone and style of gambling adverts, including in-play gambling and “bet now” adverts. A lot of work has been done by the Committee of Advertising Practice to ensure that we work on tone and content and try to reduce some of the harm done by gambling adverts.
I declare an interest: in the ’80s and early ’90s, I worked in high street betting shops. I very much welcome this announcement. The betting industry has warned that the £2 stake for FOBTs will result in thousands of betting shops closing and up to 21,000 job losses. Does the Minister agree that if outlets do close, it is because they were open specifically to house these machines, and that the real danger to jobs in the bookmaking industry is the deployment of self-service betting terminals?
It is only fair that I inform the House that a significant number of people who work in bookmakers called for us to make these stake reductions or ban these machines altogether because they have seen a change in customer behaviour in betting shops. The addiction of many people to these machines has led to violence and intimidating behaviour towards members of staff, sometimes in single-staffed bookmakers.
While we recognise that there may well be an impact on jobs, we will work closely with colleagues across Government and with partner organisations to ensure that we support members of staff. We are seeing a shift in the way that gambling is done, and there has been significant consolidation within the industry. This industry is changing, regardless of today’s announcement, but we want to ensure that we support the safety of staff.
Before I became a Member of Parliament, I met the then Secretary of State at the Hamworthy Club in Merley, which happens to be the cricket club that I play for, to discuss this very issue with local residents who were concerned about fixed odds betting terminals, and in particular their impact on vulnerable young men. I warmly welcome the statement and the impact that this will have on some of the most vulnerable in our society who are prone to problem gambling as a result of these machines.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. That is why we did this. We had to balance the interests of an industry that is an important contributor to the economy with the harm caused by these machines, which have blighted many people’s lives.
I am pleased to add my congratulations to the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and the other campaigners. The Minister mentioned the devolved Administrations. Can she assure me that there have been conversations with the Welsh Government? It would be truly awful if this measure did not apply at the same time and in the same way in Wales, through the Wales Act 2017. We do not want to be discriminated against because we live on the better side of Offa’s Dyke.
I assure the hon. Lady that those conversations have taken place, and the Welsh Government were involved in parts of the consultation prior to the announcement.
I add my congratulations to the Minister and to everyone who has campaigned for this change. Reducing the maximum stake to £2 will provide more protection for those with a gambling addiction and some of the most vulnerable in our society. I also welcome the Minister’s comments about looking into online gambling. Is she prepared to say specifically what the Government might do to reduce the stakes in online games such as blackjack, where a phenomenal amount of money can also be lost very quickly?
The hon. Lady is right, and that is why we are asking the Gambling Commission to look at online gambling. Online gambling is evolving incredibly quickly, and we need to ensure that we have the right player protections in place online, as we do on the high street. In many respects, it is easier to track play and understand player behaviour online than on the high street. We continue to take a robust look at online gambling.