Tracey Crouch has long been understood to be in favour of cutting the maximum stakes on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) from £100 to £2, even before this was made official government policy earlier this year. However, the delays to the crackdown announced in the Budget have prompted anger amongst anti-gambling campaigners and even triggered Crouch’s resignation from her post as a Sports Minister on 1st November.
Originally, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Wright, predicted it would only take one year to prepare for the change and it could be implemented in April. However, in the Budget, Philip Hammond announced that these reforms on gambling regulations will come into force in October 2019 instead, six months later than planned. The Government has responded by arguing that the original implantation date was scheduled for April 2020, so they will actually deliver the new regulation ahead of this timeframe.
Crouch and other critics of the Government’s position believe that the delay will hit some of the most vulnerable in the society. Opponents of FOBTs argue that the current regulatory framework effectively allows players to lose large amounts of money quickly; it is possible to bet up to £100 in every 20 seconds on FOBTs currently. Crouch made a point of reinforcing arguments around the potential financial and social harm that can be caused by gambling addiction in her resignation letter. In terms of financial loss, Crouch added that before the new measures are implemented in October 2019, a further £1.6bn will be lost on those machines by gamblers.
Crouch received vocal support from many in her own party and the opposition for sticking to her principles. This included on social media, as well as from MPs from all side of the house including Carolyn Harris – the chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on FOBTs, several members of the House of Lords and gambling charities.
According to the Gambling Commission, these electronic casino games bring in about £1.8bn yearly revenue for the gambling industry and further £400m tax revenue for the Government. Therefore, the betting industry was lobbying for a two-year transition period by arguing that the new reform will force them to close thousands of outlets and 21,000 employees could lose their jobs. To avoid a decrease in tax revenues, the Government will increase remote gaming duty – the taxation of online operators – from 15% to 21%.
In opposition to the campaigners, Theresa May stated that the Government listened to those who wanted to see the new policy sooner than April 2020 (the original proposed implantation date) and expressed her deep disappointment about Crouch’s departure. The PM’s spokeswoman said: “The decision has been made” and the October deadline is necessary to provide efficient time to bookmakers to prepare while also helping the Treasury’s budget.
Nevertheless, in coming weeks, a growing coalition in Parliament will likely seek to bring the proposed reform forward, and they will probably be hoping that Crouch will join them. Carolyn Harris made it clear that they will not stop until the Government imposes the planned stake cut sooner, arguing that the Government’s claim that additional time is needed for implementation of the policy is ‘nonsense’.
More importantly, Crouch’s departure raised concerns among backbench MPs that the Prime Minister is focused more on the complexities of Brexit than addressing key areas of domestic policy with her Ministers. It is no secret that the former Sports Minister was a well-liked MP across the House. At a time when May is struggling to unite her party, the resignation of a popular Minister was the last thing she needed.
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