Paddy Power, William Hill and Coral will slash the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in Northern Ireland, according to recent correspondence between a Belfast Councillor and the Association of British Bookmakers.
Among those campaigning against the highly addictive gambling machines has been Christian public policy charity CARE, which has highlighted the harm they cause. Research has shown that FOBTs are clustered in economically deprived areas and that there are four times as many problem gamblers in Northern Ireland as the rest of the United Kingdom. FOBTs have been described as the 'crack cocaine' of gambling.
Bookmakers Ladbrokes led the way by announcing last November that it was taking action to bring the stake in FOBTs in the province in line with the rest of the United Kingdom, following the news that the FOBT stake would cut across GB from £100 to just £2 as of April 2019.
Earlier this month, after a debate at Belfast City Council led by Councillor John Kyle on problem gambling in Northern Ireland, bookmakers wrote to him confirming that they, like Ladbrokes, will be reducing the stake.
At the moment, FOBTs operate in a legal grey area in Northern Ireland, in part because the Gambling Act 2005 does not extend to the country and machines there will continue to operate at £100 a spin unless bookies decide themselves to impose the change.
CARE in Northern Ireland welcomed the decision by Paddy Power, William Hill and Coral and called on other bookmakers to follow their lead. Its policy officer
Mark Baillie said: 'CARE is pleased that other bookmakers have joined Ladbrokes in slashing the stake on highly addictive fixed odds betting machines here in Northern Ireland, and we urge the rest to follow suit.
'The devastation caused by FOBTs is well-documented and it is of critical importance that action is taken to ensure the maximum stake is reduced on these machines here.
'The idea that the stake would be cut on FOBTs in Britain while still operating at £100 a spin here in Northern Ireland is unacceptable.
'It is well known that FOBTs operate in a legal grey area in Northern Ireland but that cannot be used as a reason for inaction.
'What we really need is full and proper legal clarity on this issue and it is up to all political parties in Northern Ireland to examine ways the change in Britain can be made to apply here too.'