How Will Changes to Fixed-odds Betting Terminals Impact Yorkshire?
On April 1st, new restrictions on bookmakers were introduced across the country, sparking a debate around fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The move followed a long-running campaign illustrating the huge losses incurred by some gamblers.
A submission to the government’s gambling review by the GambleAware charity saw seven gamblers losing more than 10,000 a day during a 10-month period while using the terminals; one of the seven gamblers lost £13,777.90 (more than half the UK’s national average wage) in a seven-and-a-half-hour sitting. The report also indicated that 13.6% of FOBTs users are problem gamblers and that players disproportionately live in areas of economic deprivation; it revealed that those who are unemployed are more likely to stake the maximum £100 than any other socioeconomic group.
The changes to FOBTs involved a cut from £100 to £2 in the maximum permitted stake. The move is designed to protect both youth and vulnerable individuals, for which the previous £100 maximum permitted state may be causing irrevocable financial harm.
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said: “These machines are a social blight and prey on some of the most vulnerable in society, and we are determined to put a stop to it and build a fairer society for all.”
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright said: “Reducing the potential loss per spin from £100 to £2 is a significant step forward in protecting vulnerable people.”
He added: “The government’s actions and ambitions stretch much further and we are looking at further treatment for those who have suffered from gambling-related harm, whether gambling on credit should be limited and considering what actions are necessary to tackle problem gambling online.”
A controversial move
The changes have been met with some opposition; especially from some of the bookmakers who’ve dominated the high streets in Yorkshire’s towns and cities for many years. It’s been estimated that half of the revenue generated by high-street bookmakers is through the popularity of FOBTs.
Long-standing bookmaker William Hill claimed that up to 900 of their 2,300 UK outlets faced potential closure as a result of the new restrictions on FOBTs. William Hill wrote an open letter to its high street landlords, asking to cut rent rates to avoid closure.
First reported by Property Hill, the company wrote: “The changes in regulations will mean that many shops will see costs rise significantly at a time when revenues will decline by in excess of 50% in many cases. We are therefore asking all our landlords to help us maintain our position at William Hill as the leading gambling operator on the high street so that our shops can continue to offer a great service to our customers and help maintain the viability of our high streets. We can’t afford to wait for things to happen as this will simply result in the creeping closure of more and more shops.”
The strong presence of popular bookmakers and betting shops in Yorkshire’s high streets — and the weakening of the high street market — means that the brands like William Hill are in a strong negotiating position with landlords, who might otherwise not be able to fill the otherwise empty space.
A spokesman for William Hill told the Guardian: “Our hope is that for many landlords, a shop paying a lower level rent is better than an empty shop.”
This potential loss in customers as a result of the new regulations is part of a wider loss of footfall on Yorkshire’s high streets — and the trend of its vanishing high street stores. The Yorkshire Post reports that in 2018 a total of 226 shops closed on Yorkshire’s high streets — making it the largest net fall in stores in a single year since 2013.
The continuing decline of Yorkshire high streets has affected towns and cities across the region. Research published jointly by PwC and the Local Data Company shows a record 2,481 stores closed across the UK that year. Yorkshire towns and cities most affected included Leeds, Wakefield, Hull, Sheffield, Harrogate, York, Doncaster and Bradford. On a national scale, up to 85,000 retail jobs disappeared from UK high streets in the first nine months of 2018.
The importance of regulated gambling
The new regulations and enquiry into FOBTs is a further step into the continued development safety regulations when it comes to gambling. With the Gambling Commission imposing regulations on all operators in the industry, there are several initiatives already in place. For example, online casinos must give customers the power to set limits about how much money they stake. As you’ll see at 777 online casino, customers can set deposit limits and adjust them where necessary.
Players can also self-exclude themselves from gambling if they feel they’re having a flutter too often. They can request ‘take a break’ periods ranging from one day to six weeks, and delete their account at any time.
There are no such controls in place at high street bookies or land-based casinos — so it can be argued that the new restrictions to FOBTs are a step in the right direction.
Of course, there’s no telling what the new regulations might mean for Yorkshire’s high streets, and the bookmakers and betting shops that have become staples as part of the retail landscape. Following the new legislation, many bookmakers including Betfred and Paddy Power launched a series of high-stakes roulette-style games — which some government officials see as an attempt to bypass the new rules for FOBTs.
Neil McArthur, chief executive of the Gambling Commission has written to bookmakers regarding their continued responsibilities to consumers.
“Together with Government and the industry we must continue our ongoing work to make the whole industry safer — this includes continuing to make progress with making other products safer, as customers may move to gamble in other ways,” he said.
“It’s imperative that operators invest in and use data, technology and measures to identify harmful play and can step in to protect players when needed. They should be innovating to protect their customers, as much as they do to make a profit.”
Whether bookmakers are attempting to find a loophole is still up for debate — as well as the impact on Yorkshire’s high streets. In any case, the government and regulatory bodies are keeping a close eye on the industry, while betting companies and bookmakers try and find new ways to keep their doors open as the high streets they inhabit face marketplace decline.