Gambling Commission recommends £30/£2 FOBT stake limits to Government

The Gambling Commission is recommending that the stake levels on FOBT (B2) gaming machines be cut to £2 for slots-based games and £30 for non-slots games such as roulette. The recommendation would be a fillip for bookmakers who are fearing that the staking levels on the machines would be cut to £2 across both types of game, a move which would effectively kill their profitability.

Gambling Commission Chief Executive Neil McArthur said: “We’ve put consumers at the heart of our advice – advice which is based on the best available evidence and is focussed on reducing the risk of gambling-related harm. In our judgement, a stake cut for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals alone doesn’t go far enough to protect vulnerable people. That is why we have recommended a stake cut plus a comprehensive package of other measures to protect consumers. We have proposed actions that will tackle both the risk of harm and provide solutions that are sustainable in the longer term.”

Recommendations from the report include:

  • The FOBT (B2) slots stakes should be limited to £2
  • The stake limit for FOBT (B2) non-slot games (which includes roulette) should be set at or below £30 if it is to have a significant effect on the potential for players to lose large amounts of money in a short space of time
  • Banning the facility for machines to allow different categories of games to be played in a single session
  • There is a strong case to make tracked play mandatory across machines categories (B1,B2,B3)
  • Extending to category B1 and B3 machines the kinds of protections, such as player limits, that are in place on FOBT (B2 machines)
  • Working with the industry and others on steps to make limit-setting more effective – this could include ending sessions when consumers reach time and money limits.

While the recommendation of the Gambling Commission is not the be all and end all, it does open the door for the Government to justify a move which will simultaneously reduce the number of player losses, while not destroying the profitability of the machines and the hefty tax revenues provided to the Treasury. Betting shops are extremely dependent on revenues from FOBTs and it has been estimated that a blanket £2 stake would halve the number of shops, with repercussions for employment, taxation and funding of horseracing.

The report said: “We think that there is a case for a £2 maximum stake for B2 slots, which was one of the options on which DCMS consulted. Drawing on data from 20 billion plays on B2 machines, we have looked at consumer losses as an indicator of the risk of gambling-related harm. Our analysis shows that, compared with non-slots players, slots players experience a greater proportion of significant losses. This reflects the particular risks associated with slots, which offer a lower return than non-slots games and less opportunity for players to manage their own risks through the way they play. In our view, the risks associated with this product outweigh the other factors. This is particularly the case when consumers will continue to have the option to play slots as a category B3 game in the same premises.

“For all other B2 games, we agree with RGSB that there is a precautionary case for a stake cut below £50, which is now the effective limit for most players, and we think the maximum stake should be materially lower than £50. In our view, a precautionary approach should involve a stake limit at or below £30 if it is to have a significant effect on the potential for players to lose large amounts of money in a short space of time. The chosen level will depend on the weight that Ministers attach to risk of harm, implications for the way different products are regulated, consumer choice, and public and stakeholder opinion.”