A government minister with the energy of a hibernating sloth approached the Dispatch Box in the House of Lords last week to push back on the continuing media and political tsunami engulfing the government, the bookmakers and their £100 spin crack cocaine machines. Unfortunately for the government, the Earl of Courtown remained in hibernation whilst peers on all sides of the House backed Lord Clement-Jones’ private members bill to reduce the stakes on the bookies’ roulette machines.
Even the bookmaker-friendly Lord Lipsey could no longer come to the rescue, conceding: “The bookmakers should have seen this coming and done something off their own bat, but greed stopped them doing it. I am wearied, too, by this constant repetition in their propaganda that they are waiting for the evidence.”
That greed has led one bookmaker – Paddy Power – to pursue problem gamblers, ethnic minorities and money launderers to put more money in their FOBTs, as the media revealed this month. However, Paddy’s former Chairman, like customers in betting shops, decided to go on the rampage against the machines. Writing in the Times, Fintan Drury accused bookmakers and government of behaving like “pimps” allowing FOBTs to “work the streets”. The former Chairman is now the most senior industry representative to break ranks and call for action against FOBTs, backing the most effective action: reducing the stake from £100 to £2 a spin.
The FOBT tsunami engulfing the bookmakers was predicted to be a big political row. It has now hit, with bemused ministers like the Earl of Courtown waiting for those with the real power in government to make a decision. When pushed as to when the government would announce the long-awaited review of stakes and prizes, all the Earl could say was: “I am sorry… I cannot give any indication of that… I am not able to give any more information”.
So which minister can bring the “pimping” of FOBTs to an end?