Town Halls gamble on challenge to government to cut gaming terminal pay-outs

Fixed odds terminals in a betting shop

Fixed odds terminals in a betting shop - Credit: Wm Hill's

The New Year is likely to open with the first shots being fired in a renewed campaign by town halls against an “invasion” of fixed terminal betting machines in the high street.

Betting shop high street gaming

Betting shop high street gaming - Credit: Wm Hill's

Local authorities are refusing to accept the government this week rejecting their call to halt the betting shop roulette machines known as Fixed Odds betting terminals.

Whitehall now faces a challenge by the Local Government Association representing 93 local authorities who are resubmitting their demand in the New Year for the maximum stake on the terminals to be cut from £100 a spin to £2 to reduce the “easy profits” and their addiction.

Tower Hamlets began public consultations in October to help shape the council’s gaming policy. Its current regulations in place since 2013 run out in the New Year, so they are due for another throw of the dice in 2016.

“We want to make sure have ‘best practice’,” Mayor John Biggs said at the time. “So we have been looking at the way other local authorities have addressed the proliferation of betting shops.”

William Hill's betting shop at Aldgate and (inset) company's UK Compliance chief Andrew Lyman

William Hill's betting shop at Aldgate and (inset) company's UK Compliance chief Andrew Lyman - Credit: Wm Hill's

The public consultation runs until January 17, aimed at preventing gambling being a source of crime or disorder, making sure it is fair and open and preventing youngsters being harmed or exploited.

Neighbouring Newham has been leading the Local Government Association’s battle against gaming terminals and wants the stakes reduced to neutralise their addiction.

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Newham’s Mayor Sir Robin Wales said this week: “Reducing the profits made on these machines will mean bookmakers are forced to think again about their shop numbers. The government must listen and not miss this opportunity.”

The re-submission means the government being forced to negotiate with local authorities.

But leading betting industry players accuse local authorities of using legitimate betting shops and ‘fixed odds betting terminals’ for political ends.

William Hill’s Head of Public Affairs and UK Compliance Andrew Lyman said: “It’s just become a political football which politicians of all shades seem to be happy to kick around. They call for more restrictions, despite a lack of definitive research.”

The Association of British Bookmakers, which includes William Hill’s, admits gaming machines and terminals “have the capacity to cause harm to a minority of people”.

So technical changes have been made which allow players to set voluntary limits in time and money. Breaching these limits means screens are frozen and players have “time to reflect”.

A bookmakers’ association statement said: “We do not want to make profits from problem gamblers and will impose our own controls far more quickly than the government is able to act, if gaming machine data identifies harmful patterns of play.”

The government has said “no” to 93 local authorities, according to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

Its spokesman said: “The government keeps pushing back against local councils, which have now said ‘enough is enough’ and have called for these betting terminals to be banned. It’s time to act.”

The industry says it doesn’t want a flutter at the bookies “to become a thing of the past”.