The UK gambling industry has been watching with interest the recent reshuffling of the UK cabinet, especially Theresa May's choice of a new culture secretary, Matt Hancock. The West Suffolk constituent leader is known to be generally favorable towards UK gambling, especially horse racing.
Hancock takes over from Karen Bradley at a critical time for the industry. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is set to conclude a 12 week long consultation regarding the stakes on fixed odds betting terminals. Last year, the government suggested that the stakes be reduced from the current £100 to anything between £20 and £50. A decision is due to be taken sometime this month, and an announcement will follow.
Close Ties to British Racing
According to The Guardian, anti-gambling lobbyists are worried that the new culture secretary may be less inclined to curb the maximum stakes on the machines, considering his close ties to Britain's horseracing industry, and his recognition that racing is partly funded through a levy on profits generated by British bookies.
West Suffolk incorporates the Newmarket racecourse and The Guardian cites an email showing that Hancock recently coordinated a day at the facility for Members of Parliament, and that the event was partly funded by the British Horseracing Authority.
A look at Matt Hancock's voting history shows a man who not only keeps in line with his party's relatively pro-gambling stance, but also goes beyond that. On six different occasions since becoming a minister in 2010, Hancock has voted against stricter curbs on the country's gambling industry. His is also known to be against new laws that will give local councils the ability to prevent bookmakers expanding their fixed odds betting terminal numbers.
Hancock Encouraged to Curb FOBTs
Anti-gambling lobbyists are scrambling to minimize any potential damage to their efforts to curb FOBT betting, and Labour MP Carolyn Harris has even gone so far as to warn Hancock to carry through with the DCMS's plans.
"Historically, Matt Hancock has had close links to the horse racing industry," noted MP Harris. "I would strongly urge him to continue with the government's important work of tackling the many harms caused by FOBTs.
Harris warned that any change in this policy would clearly be a "significant U-turn" by the government, especially at such a late stage in the process..
FOBT Decision to be Made Soon
In the meantime, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has promised that a decision about the fixed odds betting terminals would be made "in due course."
"We have been clear that FOBT stakes will be cut to ensure we have a safe and sustainable industry where vulnerable people and children are protected," said the DCMS.See our Gambling Laws page