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Fixed odds betting terminals

Published Friday, May 4, 2018

This Library briefing paper looks at the controversy over fixed odds betting terminals.

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What are fixed odds betting terminals?

Fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are electronic machines, sited in betting shops, which contain a variety of games, including roulette. Each machine accepts bets for amounts up to a pre-set maximum and pays out according to fixed odds on the simulated outcomes of games.

The Gambling Act 2005 regulates gambling in Great Britain. The Act classifies FOBTs as B2 gaming machines. Up to four machines can be sited on betting premises. The maximum stake on a single bet is £100, the maximum prize is £500.

There are 33, 611 B2 machines in Great Britain (Gambling Commission statistics, November 2017). The gross gambling yield from B2s for April 2016 to March 2017 was £1.8 billion.

Why are they controversial?

Critics point out that it is possible to lose large amounts of money and claim that the machines have a causal role in problem gambling.

The gambling industry says there is no evidence of a causal link between B2s and problem gambling. It also claims that reducing the maximum stake to £2, as some critics are campaigning for, would put betting shops and jobs at risk.

Academic research suggests that the causes of problem gambling are complex and are not well understood.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (an independent body advising the Gambling Commission) has noted the “regulatory dilemma” of balancing the enjoyment of the majority who gamble without experiencing harm with the protection of a minority who are at risk.

What’s been done?

The industry has taken a number of initiatives to promote responsible gambling. These include a Code of Practice, self-exclusion schemes, and the introduction of a player awareness system.

In response to public concern about B2s, the Coalition Government introduced the Gaming Machine (Circumstances of Use) (Amendment) Regulations 2015. The Regulations require those wanting to stake over £50 on a machine to load cash via staff interaction or to use account based play. The aim is to encourage greater player control and more conscious decision making.

In October 2016, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced a review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures to “ensure that we have the right balance between a sector that can grow and contribute to the economy, and one that is socially responsible and doing all it can to protect consumers and communities”. The review included a “close look” at B2 machines and the harms they can cause. 

What now?

On 31 October 2017, following its analysis of responses to the October 2016 review, the DCMS announced a range of proposals to strengthen protections around gambling. These include lowering the maximum stake on FOBTs to between £50 and £2.

A consultation on the proposals, including the level of the new stake, closed on 23 January 2018. The Government has yet to respond.


Commons Briefing papers SN06946

Author: John Woodhouse

Topic: Gambling

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