Britain plans tighter controls on betting machines

Mon Apr 7, 2014 9:43am EDT
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By Keith Weir

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain plans to tighten controls on the high-stakes gambling machines whose numbers have grown rapidly in town centre betting shops in recent years, sparking a warning from the gaming industry that hundreds of jobs could be put at risk.

Anti-gambling campaigners have long warned of the addictive nature of these machines, often cited in poor inner-city areas and which feature games such as roulette allowing as much as 300 pounds to be staked a minute.

But bookmakers said in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday that changes to tax and regulation of the machines would cost the industry 350 million pounds ($580.7 million) a year and could put more than 2,000 betting shops out of business.

The government said its proposals were aimed at ensuring punters do not rapidly run up big losses on the machines, known in the industry as fixed-odds betting terminals or FOBTs.

Under measures announced in last month's Budget, taxation on the machines will rise to 25 percent of their takings from 20 percent next year, costing bookmakers around 75 million pounds ($124 million) a year.

In addition, the government now says it wants to make voluntary warnings introduced by bookmakers last month tougher and mandatory, hoping to guard against an increase in problem gambling.

Shares in leading gaming companies William Hill and Ladbrokes were down 1 percent and 2 percent respectively by 1400 GMT (9:00 ET), while the FTSE 100 index of leading shares was down 0.7 percent. Both stocks had fallen sharply when the tax measures were announced in last month's Budget, with Ladbrokes touching its lowest level in more than two years.

With an election due next year, both the Conservatives - who are the senior party in Britain's ruling coalition - and opposition Labor have been talking tough about the growth of the machines and the related clusters of betting shops in British town centers.   Continued...

A casino sign stands behind a plastic palm tree in Blackpool, northern England, January 30, 2007. REUTERS/Phil Noble