Liberal Democrats furiously denied accusations that they voted to protect controversial fixed operating betting terminals (FOBTs) and the ability to bet £100 per spin on them, despite the party campaigning for tighter gambling regulation.
Labour MP Graham Jones told the Huffington Post UK that the Lib Dems had displayed "naked opportunism" after senior figures including Nick Clegg were photographed supporting 'Stop FOBT' campaigners and then later "voting to preserve the status quo of £100 per stake FOBTs."
He said: "The Commons vote comes next Wednesday. Whose side are the LibDems on? Vulnerable people or big gambling interests? It’s tuition fees all over again."
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Lib Dem MPs John Hemming and Andrew Stunnell, who represented their party on a parliamentary committee considering amendments to gambling regulation, voted on Wednesday to increase the maximum stake and prizes for non-FOBT machines like pub fruit machines.
However, Hemming accused Jones of "completely misrepresenting" the Lib Dems' voting, telling the Huffington Post UK: "FOBTs started to be introduced in 2001 under a Labour Government. They existed under Labour for 9 years. Labour really should not complain about the government taking another 4 months to deal with this properly."
"The committee did not take a decision on whether or not to ban (or reduce the stake) on FOBT machines. In later tweets, he has shown that he does not understand that statutory instruments can be struck down by the courts. Hence it is important to make sure that they are not vulnerable to judicial review.
"This requires a detailed process involving formal evidence for the decision. If we were to go about things the way Graham suggested it could be that reducing the maximum stake could take longer than the process identified by the government as it could get bogged down in legal proceedings."
The Liberal Democrats passed a motion at its annual autumn conference to limit the spread of the betting terminals, which collectively take more than £1 billion a week.
Hemming's comments have failed to appease Jones, who insisted the party still had many "unanswered questions", such as "how can the Lib Dems argue the regulations this week were right to have excluded FOBT’s on the basis of no evidence but as a Party call for them to be stopped without in their own words, any clear evidence?"
"Why did LibDem Chief Whip Don Foster say as a minister he wanted to reduce FOBT machines to £2 a spin, without evidence - yet the committee agreed to support the increase the stake on more prevalent gambling machines, which is at total odds with LibDem policy. Doesn't it make a mockery of an ad hoc 'government review' into whether to reduce the maximum stake on FOBT machines from £100?"
Derek Webb, founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling and Stop The FOBTs campaign, said: “There are mixed messages coming through from MPs from all parties. This is a cross-party issue, and we have always planned a long-term campaign, so will continue our efforts to see sensible restrictions on the high-speed, high stake gaming machines on Britain’s high streets.”
Blogging on the Huffington Post UK, Labour MP Tom Watson wrote: "At the moment, a punter can walk into a high street bookmakers and gamble away £100 every 20 seconds for 13 hours. This has the potential not only to destroy their life but also the lives of everyone else around them."