As the gambling industry, and many other interest groups across the country, waits for the DCMS to decide the fate of FOBTs maximum stake, culture secretary Matt Hancock faced hard questioning from MPs in parliament.
Culture secretary Matt Hancock recognised the issue of FOBTs “raises strong emotions in the House and around the country” in parliament on 8 February, as he explained the government has to ensure it comes “to the right answer” on maximum stake size.
Appearing at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions for the first time since taking over as head of the department, Hancock was put under pressure by MPs to decide that stakes should be reduced to £2 following the government’s gambling review.
The new minister was reported to be in favour of the lowest stake option last month, however disputes on this issue with the Treasury have been rumoured.
Responding to a question from Labour MP Stephen Timms, Hancock stated he had had discussions “on the issue of gambling” with the chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond.
Timms described the machines as “vile” and betting shops as “tawdry and soulless high street outlets”, adding: “Will the secretary of state now call time on this racket,with its £1.5 billion a year welfare burden, and cut the maximum stake to £2?”
Hancock replied: “I know that the issue of fixed odds betting terminals raises strong emotions in the House and around the country, and it is very important we approach it properly.
“Especially coming from the right honourable gentleman, who is widely respected across the House and was a member of the government when the expansion of FOBTs happened, that is a telling statement.”
Shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan pushed harder, asking Hancock: “Will the secretary of state answer my simple question and commit today to reducing the maximum FOBT stake to £2 a spin?”
He replied:“What I will do is commit to reducing the maximum FOBT stake, and to responding to the consultation in due course and in the proper way.We must ensure we come to the right answer on this question.”
Labour MP Holly Lynch raised a separate issue of lone working in betting shops, which Hancock responded to by pointing to a “full consideration of these issues” in the Triennial Review.
The day before in Parliament, Conservative MP John Hayes challenged his party leader during Prime Minister’s Questions to meet with him to discuss “the devastation, debt and despair caused by Fixed Odds Betting Terminals” and the need to “crack down on online gambling sites that target young children”.
May’s nebulous response foreshadowed Hancock’s.
“We are clear that fixed odds betting terminals stakes will be cut to make sure that we have a safe and sustainable industry where vulnerable people and children will be protected,” she said.