Britain’s betting shop operators are calling for an urgent review of the government’s decision to raise the tax on electronic table game revenue from 20 percent to 25 percent, a move they say will cost the industry more than £75 million a year when it comes into force in March 2015.
The Association of British Bookmakers said it will be “lobbying hard” to overturn the increase. “We are assessing the extent of the damage the budget will cause the industry. What’s clear is that it has put thousands of jobs at risk almost immediately.”
Ironically, critics of the controversial machines, known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT), also take issue with the higher tax, arguing that it shows the government cares more about profiting from the machines than about protecting consumers.
They say the machines, which allow players to wager on a variety of automated casino-style games, roulette being the most popular, are a leading cause of problem gambling and have sparked an explosion in recent years in the number of high street betting shops, for which the machines, restricted to four per location, are now the leading source of revenues.
“Rather than deal with the FOBTs and proliferation of betting shops (Chancellor George) Osborne says he wants to make more money from them,” said Labor MP David Lammy, who represents a district in London.
The Labor Party is pushing Parliament to grant local governments greater zoning powers to control the licensing of new betting shops and wants the governing Conservatives to impose limits on bet sizes and other deterrents.
Meanwhile, the city of Birmingham has been told that without new central government legislation they are powerless to stop more betting shops—and the casino-style electronic table games they contain—from opening in high-density shopping areas.
City Council’s Planning Committee initially voted 6-5 against an application from bookmaker Coral for a venue in the Yardley district, but planning officers said if Coral sued, the city was likely to lose and would entail significant costs in doing so.
Under current law, betting shops are classed as financial services, the same as banks, estate agents and insurance brokers, and therefore are under few restrictions barring them from high streets.
Campaign for Fairer Gambling, a grassroots group dedicated to opposing the FOBTs, said Birmingham gamblers lost £53 million on the machines in 2013, an average of £776 each.
“It is these gaming machines which turn a betting shop into a mini-casino on the high street,” complained Counsellor Barry Henley.
It is a complaint echoed across municipalities nationwide and is being heard now in the House of Commons, where the government of Prime Minister David Cameron is preparing to impose limits on the machines with penalties for operators who fail to enforce them.
Reports are that Cameron has personally ordered officials and the U.K. Gambling Commission, the nation’s top regulator, to toughen up a new responsible gaming code instituted voluntarily by the industry in February. The code includes pop-up alerts, which flash on FOBT screens when a customer has spent £250 or played for 30 minutes. It’s expected the code will be made mandatory with violators facing possible closure. It’s possible bet sizes will be reduced as well.