| LONDON, April 7
LONDON, April 7 Britain plans to tighten
controls on the high-stakes gambling machines whose numbers have
grown rapidly in town centre betting shops in recent years,
sparking a warning from the gaming industry that hundreds of
jobs could be put at risk.
Anti-gambling campaigners have long warned of the addictive
nature of these machines, often cited in poor inner-city areas
and which feature games such as roulette allowing as much as 300
pounds to be staked a minute.
But bookmakers said in a letter to Prime Minister David
Cameron on Monday that changes to tax and regulation of the
machines would cost the industry 350 million pounds ($580.7
million) a year and could put more than 2,000 betting shops out
The government said its proposals were aimed at ensuring
punters do not rapidly run up big losses on the machines, known
in the industry as fixed-odds betting terminals or FOBTs.
Under measures announced in last month's Budget, taxation on
the machines will rise to 25 percent of their takings from 20
percent next year, costing bookmakers around 75 million pounds
($124 million) a year.
In addition, the government now says it wants to make
voluntary warnings introduced by bookmakers last month tougher
and mandatory, hoping to guard against an increase in problem
Shares in leading gaming companies William Hill and
Ladbrokes were down 1 percent and 2 percent respectively
by 1400 GMT, while the FTSE 100 index of leading shares
was down 0.7 percent. Both stocks had fallen sharply when the
tax measures were announced in last month's Budget, with
Ladbrokes touching its lowest level in more than two years.
With an election due next year, both the Conservatives -
who are the senior party in Britain's ruling coalition - and
opposition Labour have been talking tough about the growth of
the machines and the related clusters of betting shops in
British town centres.
"We have asked the Gambling Commission to consider whether
the 250 pound and 30 minute limits before a pop-up message
appears are too high and too long," said a spokesman for the
Department for Culture, Media and Sport, referring to measures
brought in by bookmakers a month ago.
"We want a successful gambling industry but not at the
expense of player protection and will announce our plans on this
soon," the spokesman added.
There are around 33,000 of the machines in British town
centre betting shops generating income of around 1.5 billion
pounds, helping to keep shops viable when growing numbers of
gamblers are opting to go online.
The betting industry was already starting to cut costs ahead
of a new regime for taxing online gambling that is expected to
come into force in December, closing a loophole that had allowed
many operators to keep taxes to a minimum by basing operations
offshore in places like Gibraltar.
Bookmakers including William Hill and Ladbrokes say there is
no evidence to support claims that the machines are causing an
increase in problem gambling.
The letter from the Association of British Bookmakers to
Cameron said the industry had cooperated with the government on
concerns over fixed-odds machines.
"This dialogue has made the unexpected and punitive measures
recently announced in the Budget, even more difficult to
comprehend," said the letter, signed by industry figures
including the chief executives of William Hill, Ladbrokes and
Ireland's Paddy Power.
"It is often forgotten that we are the only sector that pays
more in tax than we make in profit and contribute 1 billion
(pounds) to the Exchequer," it added.
($1 = 0.6028 British Pounds)
(Editing by David Holmes)