Theresa May today made a humiliating U-turn on her decision to delay curbs to ‘crack cocaine’ gambling machines after a Tory revolt.
The Government sparked fury by deciding to delay the slashing of the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2, by six months.
The decision, announced by Philip Hammond in the Budget, was condemned by charities and caused the shock resignation of Sports Minister Tracey Crouch.
But after a fortnight of mounting pressure, the Government today announced they will abandon the delay and bring the implementation forward to April next year.
Theresa May (pictured in the Commons today) signalled that the Government will today announce a dramatic U-turn on its decision to delay curbs to ‘crack cocaine’ gambling machines
The decision, announced by Philip Hammond in the Budget, sparked fury across the Commons and caused the shock resignation of Sports Minister Tracey Crouch (pictured)
Mrs May was pressed on the issue in PMQs by ex Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith – who was spotted heading into No10 for talks this morning – a leading critic of the delay.
The PM said: ‘This question of the maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals is one that does have an impact on vulnerable people as well as their families and loved ones.
‘I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue.
‘I know gambling can devastate lives.
‘So our priority is making sure that this change delivers the results we all want to see.
What are Fixed Odds Betting Terminals?
FOBTs offer casino-style games such as roulette in bookmaker shops. Currently players can gamble stakes of up to £100 every 20 seconds.
Currently gamblers can bet, and lose, £100 every 20 seconds meaning potentially thousands of pounds in a single session.
Since Labour’s 2005 Gambling Act the number of FOBTs – which offer casino-style games such as roulette – has increased from 20,000 to nearly 35,000.
Each machine generates an average of £50,000 a year for bookmakers.
‘We are listening to the concerns being raised by colleagues.
‘And if you will have a little patience I can tell you that the Culture Secretary will set out further details later today.’
And Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright formally announced the U-turn in a written statement today.
He said: ‘The Government is today announcing that the implementation of changes to reduce the stakes of B2 Gaming Machines from £100 to £2 will take place in April 2019. This will be done through a Statutory Instrument, laid before the House this week.’
He added: ‘The Government has been clear that protecting vulnerable people is the prime concern, but that as a responsible government it is also right 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.’
The Government was plunged into a bitter row earlier this month when the Chancellor announced the curbs would not be introduced until October next year – six months later than anticipated.
And it prompted the shock resignation of Ms Crouch, a hugely popular minister.
Ms Crouch today hailed the U-turn – and said common sense has prevailed.
She told Sky News: ‘People were losing their lives over these machines, so I feel that today common sense has prevailed.
‘I am very grateful that the government has listened to the concerns, that they have seen sense and will implement these reductions in April 2019.’
The PM was pressed on the issue by ex Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith (pictured today in the Commons) – who was spotted heading into No10 for talks this morning – a leading critic of the delay
Asked if her resignation was necessary, she added; ‘I think the proof is in the pudding – the fact is we have had a change in policy.
‘I had been advocating April 2019 for some time and that message was not getting across.
‘My resignation prompted enough people to support me in that view and that has led to the U-turn today.’
The delay had become a running sore for the PM as many leading Tories – including Boris Johnson and Priti Patel – immediately took to Twitter to back Ms Crouch.
Mrs May is facing the political battle of her life to get her Brexit deal – which has just been agreed with the EU – through a hugely hostile Commons.
And Number Ten will have decided that it is not worth wasting political capital trying to defend the FOBT decision while they are trying to use all their influence to get the agreement passed.