Tory's minister, who supported FOBT, takes over the review of gambling laws
A conservative minister who advocated allowing fixed-rate betting (FOBT) terminals at highway gas stations and amusement arcades has been commissioned to conduct a ground-breaking gambling law review, Guardian learns.
Supporters of gambling reform expressed concern after it was revealed that John Whittingdale, the media and data minister, was taking over responsibility for the review from Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, almost three months after launch.
They cited the Whittingdale record in voting against stronger industry regulation and comments belittling the dangers of the FOBT.
Whittingdale was chairman of the Cultural Affairs committee when it produced a report suggesting that FOBTs should be allowed in places such as bingo halls and arcades. The 2012 report could also lead to the highly addictive £ 100 one spin vending machine installed at highway service stations across the country. The proposals were not accepted by the government of David Cameron.
Whittingdale later went on to universally describe FOBT as "crack cocaine" for gambling, saying at an industry conference, "So I'm not sure they even have gambling marijuana." NHS polls have consistently found that FOBTs are associated with higher rates of addiction than other gambling products.
In a 2014 debate in the Whittingdale House of Commons, he said it was "virtually impossible to lose large sums on machinery." However, a subsequent study by the Gambling Commission found that FOBT players lost more than £ 1,000 for more than 233,000 times over a 10-month period.
The conservative government eventually cut the maximum wage from £ 100 to £ 2, calling the machines a "social plague".
Carolyn Harris of the Labor Party, which chairs a cross-party group of MPs investigating gambling-related harm, said she was concerned about the change in ministerial oversight of the review.
"Given the new nominee has long been a strong supporter of the industry, I very much hope he will focus on the evidence and not be influenced by aggressive lobbying in the industry," she said.
The change is believed to be due to the intensity of Huddleston's work overseeing efforts to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on sports, tourism and heritage.
A spokesman for the Department for Digital Affairs, Culture, Media and Sport said: "Minister [Whittingdale] fully supports a comprehensive, evidence-based review of the Gambling Act to make sure the legislation is fit for the digital age."
Liz Ritchie, of the charity Gambling with Lives, which was founded by families mired in gambling-related suicide, said: "The failure of successive ministers to repair the grievances of the 2005 Gambling Act and contain the greed of the gambling industry led to the death of thousands of people from suicides related to gambling. with gambling and tearing millions of lives apart. The new minister has a chance to fix it. The bereaved families will force him to save the life of the next generation. "
Voting records show Whittingdale has consistently opposed measures to impose tighter sector control. In 2013, he voted not to require gambling companies to ban people who signed up for self-exclusion. In 2011, he voted against measures that would prevent gambling companies from obtaining automatic building permits to open stores on plots abandoned by banks.
Matt Zarb-cousin of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling said: “Public support for gambling reform is overwhelming. So if the government is going to get a proper gambling rating, hopefully John's views have changed since 2012. "