My Lords, new regulations come into force on 6 April this year that will end unsupervised high-stake gambling on fixed-odds betting terminals. All players using FOBTs are now presented with a choice to set time and money upfront. We are keeping this issue under review and remain focused on identifying gambling-related harm, wherever it is found, and devising effective measures to bear down on it hard.
My Lords, one man recently laundered nearly £1 million in drug money through these machines in Coral betting shops in the north-east. Can my noble friend the Minister explain why the Government’s rather feeble plan to set the maximum stake to £50 or £100 will make any difference at all to money laundering or to the extensive gambling addiction that these machines cause, given that four out of five of those staking just a quarter of the proposed new maximum limit show signs of problem gambling?
My Lords, as regards money laundering, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 places a duty on gambling operators to be alert to money laundering attempts and to report such attempts to the National Crime Agency. The Government expect all gambling operators to ensure that their anti-money laundering procedures are consistently and effectively applied to minimise risk and maintain good controls. On the point of the size of the stakes, the new measures will require those accessing stakes over £50 to use account-based play or to load cash over the counter. The Responsible Gambling Trust has said that in its view it is,
“overtly naïve and massively premature”,
to suggest that reducing the maximum stake size would help to reduce problem gambling.
My Lords, in a casino you will have at least a croupier, an overseer and a manager, all monitoring the behaviour of a gambler, yet on most high streets you can have a small shop with two of these machines and one person behind a screen. Does the Minister seriously believe that the assurances given by the bookmakers can be met as regards monitoring problem gambling?
My Lords, clearly, we will see how those measures work. We very much hope that they will work, and we are looking to the gambling industry to ensure that it co-operates on this. Of course, as I said before, the measures require all players of FOBTs to be presented with a choice to set time and money, which we think is an important stage in ensuring a redress of this problem.
My Lords, the Government have been a strong supporter of localism, so will they listen to the views of some 93 local councils, who have asked the Government to be able to cut the FOBT stake to £2 because they are worried about anti-social behaviour, crime and problem gambling in their areas?
My Lords, I know that DCLG is looking at that submission, and I very much hope that it will report on that shortly. However, of course we are also giving further powers to local communities by requiring planning applications to be submitted to local authorities for new betting shops.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, despite the new measures, it will still be possible for a gambler to spend £100 every 20 seconds? What further inducement could one give to people who have social difficulties and who are problem gamblers than to make it so easy to lose so much money?
My Lords, the new measures will require those accessing stakes of over £50 to use account-based play or to load cash. However, interestingly, the Gambling Commission reported on Friday on its wish to raise the bar on social responsibility and working with operators to ensure that there is much more adherence to assisting people who gamble.
My Lords, does the Minister see any connection between the gambling law and the problems of money laundering that have just been discussed, and what happened with HSBC five years ago, when the noble Lord, Lord Green, apparently was running the shop and 5 million Swiss francs in cash were handed over in a plastic bag?
My Lords, I am a fairly even-minded person, but we are dealing with a question where, in 2000, there were no FOBTs and, by 2010, there were 30,000 FOBTs. That is the situation that this Government now seek to address. The deputy leader of the noble Lord’s party has admitted that what happened was a mistake, and we are now dealing with that.