UK minister resigns over delay to fixed-odds betting terminals crackdown

Written by Kevin Schofield and Tom Freeman on 1 November 2018 in News

Tracey Crouch resigns as UK sports minister over a decision to delay a crackdown on highly addictive betting machines

Tracey Crouch - credit Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Tracey Crouch has resigned as UK sports minister over the Government's decision to delay a crackdown on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT).

The Tory MP, who has worked for some time on a review on the subject, is reportedly furious that the maximum stake punters can bet on the controversial machines will not be reduced from £100 to £2 until October next year - six months later than expected.

Holyrood's sister site PoliticsHome was told that Crouch had previously threatened to resign on two occasions over the Government's approach to FOBTs, although that was denied by sources close to the minister.

After the timescale was announced in Philip Hammond's budget, Crouch held talks with Tory chief whip Julian Smith this morning, but decided to quit after Treasury Secretary made clear to MPs that the Government would not be U-turning on the matter.

Speculation mounted when she failed to appear in the Commons to answer an urgent question earlier today.

Her departure from the Government is another blow for Theresa May, who has seen a succession of ministers quit the Tory front bench in her time in Number 10.

Earlier, a number of Tory MPs made clear their opposition to the Government's position and the Government now faces the prospect of a major rebellion if, as expected, Labour put the issue to a vote in the Commons.

Former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said: "It is not too late, for the sake of those people whose families and lives have been destroyed and there may yet be more, many more to follow them. 

"I urge my right honourable friend to think again and to bring forward the date so that we may end this scourge."

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright denied that the Government was delaying the FOBT crackdown, insisting that the changes were initially touted to come in in April 2020.

Defending the Government's position, he said: "It was also right to consider planning to reduce the effect of job losses of those working in betting shops on the high street and allowing time for that planning to take effect.

“It also has to be recognised that right though this change is, money for public services coming from the use of FOBTs has to be replaced or public services will have less funding.

“The Chancellor has decided to that with an increase in remote gaming duty and it is right that that happens at the same time as the FOBT stake change."

Scottish Labour MP for Glasgow North East Paul Sweeney said the delay would "cost people across Scotland."

“Glasgow is the hardest hit city in Britain, losing more money to fixed-odds betting terminals than any other council area in the country, according to industry research. It is estimated that the annual social cost to the city is £27 million a year," he said

“Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are highly addictive games machines which can do huge harm very quickly - they are not the traditional fruit machine-style 'puggy' sitting in the pub corner. 

“They have been rightly dubbed the 'crack cocaine' of gambling. There have been many cases of people rapidly descending into destitution and committing suicide as a result of their addiction."

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