Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Fwd: The government's rejection of Newham Council's submission under the SCA

Dear Graham Jones,

As you may be aware, on Thursday 16th July the Government rejected Newham Council's submission under the Sustainable Communities Act, which called for a reduction in the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 a spin to £2.

The proposal was the best supported submission under the Sustainable Communities Act to date. 93 councils backed the initial submission and a further two declared support for it after, taking the total number of supportive local authorities to 95, including Hyndburn.

The Government rejected the proposal, with Local Government Minister Marcus Jones MP blaming Councils for not dealing with the issues caused by FOBTs and betting shops. Mr. Jones implied that Councils had allowed multiple betting shops to open by granting them premise licenses, but he later undermined his own argument by acknowledging that Councils are hamstrung as they have to "aim to permit" gambling.

In April 2014, the Government announced very watered down measures for FOBTs that took a year to come into force. They require customers who wish to bet more than £50 a spin – or £150 a minute – to identify themselves to staff or sign up to a loyalty card.

£50 every 20 seconds is still far too high and unsafe, so it is dangerous for the Government to imply that this is an acceptable level for customers to be wagering. High levels of problem gambling occurs at a much lower staking levels anyway. For example, the Responsible Gambling Trust research found that around 80% of those that bet £13.40 or more were gambling problematically and it should be remembered that FOBTs are still available for play at up to £100 every 20 seconds.

Player tracking is unlikely to mean player protection when it will be left entirely up to the bookmakers to utilise the data from their higher staking customers to ensure they are preventing problem gambling. Bookmakers are aggressively marketing to their loyalty card holders, sending them multiple text messages each week to encourage further engagement with FOBTs at higher stakes.

The Campaign has received reports from staff that they are being encouraged to show customers how to play two FOBTs at the same time. Some operators only require a phone number, a name and an email address to enable access to stakes above £50 a spin, but only the phone number needs is verified and is then used for direct marketing.

Staff are also expected to confront problematic gamblers if they suspect they are experiencing harm. This puts the member of staff at extreme risk, especially when corporate bookmakers now operate a policy of lone staffing.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling is not anti-gambling. We simply acknowledge that FOBTs are extremely addictive and high speed, high stake casino content does not belong in an easy access, supposedly soft gambling environment like betting shops

Under the terms of the Sustainable Communities Act, the Local Government Association (LGA) – as a Selector – will re submit Newham's proposal and enter into negotiations with the Government for a period of six months. The Government has to come to agreement with the Selector within this timeframe.

We would welcome an opportunity to discuss how we might work together to support the LGA in its negotiations, and raise the profile of the issue in your constituency. Let us know if and when a meeting can be arranged at your convenience.

You can also read more about our response to the announcement in the Campaign's latest Central Lobby article.

Yours sincerely,
Derek Webb Adrian Parkinson Matt Zarb-Cousin
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling Team
Lucy Knighton Press Officer
telephone: +44 (0)115 948 6900

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