Belfast City Council will discuss plans to call on all gambling operators to follow Ladbrokes’ lead by voluntarily reducing the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) across Northern Ireland.
Maximum stakes on FOBT, or B2 machines, will be cut from £100 to £2 from April in England, Scotland and Wales from April, following a Parliamentary statutory instrument passed in December.
This legislation does not apply to Northern Ireland, where gambling is regulated under the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and not the Gambling Act 2005. The absence of a ruling Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland, which has not sat since January 2017, means legislative action cannot be taken to reduce the stake limit.
However GVC Holdings-owned Ladbrokes announced plans to implement the same limit in its Northern Ireland betting shops as the rest of the UK in November last year.
Now a motion proposed by Cllr Dr John Kyle, to be debated on Monday, will ask Belfast City Council to call on other operators to do the same and outline plans for a framework to offer further support to problem gamblers.
The text of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) councillor’s motion reads: “The Council calls on betting companies operating in Northern Ireland to follow the decision of Ladbrokes to voluntarily reduce the stakes on FOBT machines in this jurisdiction, in line with the rest of the UK.”
The motion also calls for a review by the Nothern Ireland Department of Health of support provided to those suffering from gambling addiction, as well as the creation of a dedicated treatment service. This would be achieved through meetings between the Departments of Health and Communities with an all-party delegation from the council to discuss gambling addiction support and the status of FOBTs.
In May 2017, the Department for Communities published a survey, which found a problem gambling prevalence rate of 2.3% in Northern Ireland, a rate over four times higher than in England.
“Despite [these findings], support for individuals suffering from gambling addiction in NI is almost non-existent,” reads Kyle’s motion, which was seconded by Social Democratic and Labour Party Councillor Donal Lyons.
In October, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond said in his Autumn Budget statement that the FOBT maximum stake limit would be effective from October 2019, alongside a 6% increase in Remote Gaming Duty.
However, this led to sports Minister Tracey Crouch resigning in protest at the proposed date, and prompted a cross-party rebellion in the House of Commons to push for implementation in April, forcing the government into a U-turn.