A crackdown on highly-addictive betting machines has been brought forward by six months in a major U-turn by the government.
Chancellor Philip Hammond sparked outrage – and the dramatic resignation of sports minister Tracey Crouch – when he revealed in the Autumn Budget that plans to cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 would be delayed until October 2019.
Hammond defended the decision, saying it was “common sense” to allow the gambling industry time to adjust, amid fears the change could lead to job losses in betting shops.
But facing threats of a Commons rebellion, culture secretary Jeremy Wright revealed on Wednesday that the move to tackle the effects of betting machines dubbed the “crack cocaine” of gambling would be brought forward to April.
Arguing that protecting vulnerable people was a “prime concern” for the government, the former attorney general said it was only responsible to “take the needs of those employed by the gambling industry into account and provide time for an orderly transition”.
“Parliament has, however, been clear that they want this change to be made sooner. The government has listened and will now implement the reduction in April 2019,” he added.
Wright’s much-anticipated written statement came after May signalled a U-turn during PMQs, telling MPs that she recognised the “strength of feeling on this issue”.
The move comes after it emerged on Tuesday that at least 25 Tory MPs – including Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson – had joined opposition politicians to demand the change be fast-tracked.
Former work and pensions secretary Duncan Smith told reporters last night: “We will have that date, one way or another”.
With 87 MPs having signed “killer” amendments to the Finance Bill in a bid to fast-track the changes to FOTBs, it was the first time in 40 years the government had faced a defeat on a budget vote.
Reacting to the news, former minister Crouch said “common sense has prevailed”.
“This is right and sensible on FOBTs and will, without doubt, reduce harm from these machines on our high streets,” she added.
Jeremy Corbyn’s former spokesperson Matt Zarb-Cousin – a prominent gambling regulation campaigner and someone who has spoken frankly about his own gambling addiction – also welcomed the expected U-turn.
“It was nonsensical for the government to describe FOBTs as a ‘social blight’ and then to delay implementation of a £2 cap beyond April 2019,” he said.
“We are pleased the government has been forced into a climbdown by cross-party pressure, triggered by the principled resignation of Tracey Crouch, who deserves the highest praise.”
Zarb-Cousin added: “Lives will be saved and families won’t be torn apart as a result of this policy.”
The decision comes just two days after it was revealed that culture secretary Jeremy Wright met with pro-gambling Tory MPs Philip Davies and Laurence Robertson – both of whom have received thousands of pounds in hospitality and entertainment from gambling firms – less than three weeks before the government delayed its planned crackdown on betting.