Miliband making political capital from negative action group and media coverage on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) has become a major media and political issue in Britain, with the official Opposition Labour Party gearing up to force a vote in Parliament, according to a BBC report Monday.
"Labour is to force a vote in Parliament on its plans to give councils the power to ban high-stakes roulette machines from bookmakers’ shops," the broadcaster claims, quoting Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has made the issue a political priority in recent months as an election looms.
Miliband has promised that tightening control on FOBTs and giving local authorities the power to halt the proliferation of retail betting shops in their areas are part of Labour’s plans should they come to power.
A government study on the public and societal impact of FOBTs is currently underway, with results due next autumn.
The BBC says Miliband will move quickly on his intention to call a vote; the broadcaster claims that Labour will use an opposition day debate in the Commons on Wednesday to press the coalition Conservative – Lib Dem government for action over the issue.
Labour’s shadow sport minister Clive Efford said: "Across the country, traditional bookies are being turned into mini-casinos, where people can gamble up to GBP 300 a minute. The next Labour government will give powers to local communities to ban high stakes gambling machines from high streets."
Gambling Minister Helen Grant responded: "This is yet more opportunistic nonsense from Labour. Just a few weeks ago Clive Efford said that there was no evidence to support a change in the stake and prize levels for FOBTs, yet now he is trotting out a totally contradictory line written for him by his political masters."
She added: "This Government is undertaking the biggest ever study into the effect of these machines and have made clear that we will not hesitate to take action if the evidence points in that direction. To act without evidence is inappropriate and extraordinarily cynical, even by Labour’s standards."
There are over 33,000 fixed odds betting terminals machines making GBP 1.5 billion each year for the big bookmakers – about half their annual profits, the BBC report notes.
Labour politicians have characterised the use of FOBT machines by betting shop operators as "predatory", claiming that some players are addicted to this quick form of gambling, which they say causes "debt and misery", as well as acting as a magnet for crime and anti-social behaviour.
Interestingly, it was the last Labour government that relaxed the gambling laws, allowing bookmakers to start installing fixed odds betting terminals machines in their retail betting shops.
Last month Miliband said the current limit of four FOBTs per betting shop had simply led to "clusters" of shops opening together, with councils powerless to act.
Labour plans to reverse the situation by reviewing the definition of betting shops, which presently rank alongside banks; reconsidering the number of FOBTs permitted in a betting shop; forcing operators to impose breaks in play on FOBTs and issue warnings to players via pop-ups; reducing the maximum amounts a player can wager on an FOBT; and giving local councils more power to refuse applications to open betting shops in their areas.
The gambling industry says there is no hard evidence of claims of addiction and has promised a new code of conduct to allow players to limit their own stakes.
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