Since I was first elected to parliament in 2015, I have been campaigning to see the stakes that can be wagered on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) reduced to £2. I was truly delighted to see the government announce it would do so this week.
It is morally and socially the right decision. This has been a genuinely cross-party, cross-Parliamentary campaign, and this announcement is a historic milestone in the fight against gambling-related harm.
My interest in the machines and the damage they were doing peaked through my work in my constituency. I discovered that certain constituents visiting my office for food parcels to feed their children were later seen pumping money into machines in the local bookmakers.
There are more than 33,000 FOBTs located in betting shops up and down the country, each, until now, allowing gamblers to part with up to £100 every 20 seconds. The potential danger for individuals, and the wider community, was clear for all to see.
Last year, roughly 230,000 people lost more than £1,000 on a FOBT. These machines are an addictive blight on our high streets – highly profitable for the bookmakers but highly dangerous for those cursed with a compulsion to play. They are responsible for people losing not only vast sums of money, but in some cases their homes, jobs, families and, sadly for some, even their lives.
Reducing the stakes on these machines will help end the huge social and financial harm. Problem gambling affects 430,000 people in the UK annually. As well as the personal tragedies this represents, a recent report by the well-respected economics think tank the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) showed that problem gambling also carries a huge economic and societal cost – £1.5bn a year when the impact on wider social welfare is taken into account. The £2 stake will also help prevent money laundering.
The change is a significant victory, but it did not happen overnight. It was only after much pressure from the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group (which I chair) and other campaigners, that the government finally consulted on changing the law in October 2017.
Parts of the gambling industry speak of the potential loss to the economy from restricting the stake to £2. But it is wrong for the bookmakers to make their money from the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society, and it is wrong that it has been allowed to go on for so long. This announcement will help in part to bring an end to that.
Almost two years after the APPG on FOBTs was first established, I am delighted that the government has finally listened to our calls. Now let’s make sure the £2 stake is implemented as soon as possible.
Carolyn Harris is MP for Swansea East and shadow minister for women and equalities and home affairs, Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour and Chair of the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group. Follow her @CarolynHarris24.