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UK – Association of British Bookmakers at war over FOBT report

By - 31 January 2017

Britain’s bookmakers are demanding an urgent inquiry into a new report by the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) All- Party Parliamentary Group.

It has lodged a complaint with a Parliamentary Watchdog over what it claims is a rules breach in not naming who financed the report.

The report calls for a £2 per spin maximum stake to be imposed on all FOBTs. The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) warned such a move would be a hammer blow to High Street bookmakers and threaten thousands of jobs.

The report states that there are 34,809 touchscreen FOBTs in the UK sited in 8,709 betting shops. The terminals allow punters to bet up to £100 per spin on electronic games of roulette, poker, blackjack and virtual racing. The report from the Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group states that FOBTs generated over half of the bookmaking industry’s profits in 2015 with FOBT players spending £1.7bn with each terminal generating around £48,724.

The ABB criticised the report as being ‘deeply flawed’ and said it had been funded by commercial rivals of Britain’s bookmakers. It demanded an immediate inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards into the FOBTs All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) which it condemned as a ‘front for vested commercial interests.’ It claims there is no evidence that a reduction in stake size would decrease the risk of problem gambling. It also claims that the FOBTs All-Party Parliamentary Group and its report is funded by trade association BACTA, The Hippodrome Casino, casino slot manufacturer Novomatic, JD Wetherspoon who operates pub machines, LM Consulting who advises arcades, Praesepe who operates arcades and Campaign for Fairer Gambling who has links to the casino industry.

Malcolm George, Chief Executive of the Association of British Bookmakers said: “This is a deeply flawed report funded by vested interests who would directly benefit if its recommendations are ever implemented. The report is the view of a tiny group of anti-betting shop MP. This group has been financed by those with interests in the casino, arcade and pub industries. We strongly believe that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards should urgently investigate this All-Party Parliamentary Group.

“This group of MPs has operated in secrecy, provided no transcripts of the evidence given to their meetings and operated throughout behind closed doors away from public scrutiny,” he added. “Britain’s bookmakers employ more than 43,000 staff and contribute over £1bn a year in taxes. But, betting shops are already closing at the rate of more than 100 a year and if the findings of this rigged report are implemented, it could spell the beginning of the end for the High Street bookmaker.”

He went on to accuse the MPs of a ‘woeful lack of transparency’ over the vested interests who bankrolled the Group.

Mr George has today written to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner over the “clear breaches” of the rules that govern APPGs and force them to reveal who funds them.

Under the parliamentary rules governing APPGs: “Groups must be transparent about their nature, membership and funding. In particular, they must avoid presenting themselves in a way which could lead to confusion with Select Committees.”

The rules add: “If a report or other publication has been compiled or funded by an external individual or organisation, this should be made clear on the front cover (or equivalent – If it is an online publication) through wording such as: “This Report was researched by xxx and funded by xxx”.

The FOBTs All-Party Group has published two reports: the ‘FOBT APPG Interim report’ published on December 6 2016 and the ‘Fixed Odds Betting Terminals Inquiry report’ on January 31 2017.

Mr George said: “There has been a clear failure to follow the strict rules that govern All-Party Parliamentary Groups.This small group of MPs has exhibited a woeful lack of transparency over the vested interests like casinos and amusement arcades who bankrolled the Group. This has been a kangaroo court from the start. The MPs are in clear breach of the rules and I have written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards over their one-sided and evidence-free report funded by our industry’s commercial rivals. Despite its flimsy conclusions, this wilfully misleading document gives the bogus veneer of an official and independent Parliamentary report and risks causing considerable damage to our industry and a negative impact on the shareholders of some of our members.”

Derek Webb, Founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) represents a sector that managed to avoid regulation under every government until the 2005 Gambling Act. The bookies had introduced FOBTs illegally, but compromise by weak politicians across party lines enabled four FOBTs per shop at stakes of up to £100 per spin. The ABB represents a predatory sector that has a history of submitting flawed reports to government to protect the vested commercial interests of bookmaking executives and shareholders. The ABB is now touting fake news and lashing out to attack Parliamentarians in the FOBT Group. DCMS must act as soon as possible to end the bookies FOBT-armed economic war against deprived communities.”

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