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Bookies may face FOBT crackdown after poll shock.

Byline: Bill Barber

THE likelihood high street bookmakers will face a crackdown on gaming machines appeared to have increased after voters delivered a hung parliament following the general election.

Both the betting and racing industries were facing uncertain times after prime minister Theresa May's gamble of calling a snap election backfired spectacularly.

May is set to form a new minority government with the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), but that is far from the best-case scenario for betting shop operators.

The findings of the triennial review of the stakes and prizes on the controversial gaming machines - also known as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - had been delayed by the election and were not expected to be released until the autumn.

There was speculation the review would call for a reduction in stakes on the machines from PS100 to as low as PS10 to PS20, but analysts of the sector said yesterday the election result might mean government making a political decision to cut stakes even further.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats both called for stakes to be slashed to PS2 in their manifestos - which bookmakers have claimed would lead to thousands of betting shops closing with serious consequences for the funding of horse and greyhound racing - while members of the DUP have also spoken out against them.

Even with DUP support the Conservatives would have only a small majority in the Commons, and analyst David Jennings, of Davy Stockbrokers, said: "Passing anything controversial would be a challenge, and gaming machines are increasingly controversial with ongoing media scrutiny.

"It's also worth noting that some Conservative MPs are already on record as calling for a PS2 staking limit.

"The risk has therefore arguably increased that the next government will make a political rather than an evidence-based decision and that could mean a more severe cut to the maximum stake than is called for in the regulatory review.

"As of this morning we'd argue the election outcome equates to a gloomier outlook for the multi-channel operators."

William Hill's group communications director Ciaran O'Brien said the firm was monitoring developments but called on government to make a decision based on evidence.

"Ministers have always stated the process will be evidence-led, and we fully expect that to continue to be the case," he said.

"We will accordingly reiterate to government the lack of the association between stake size and problem gambling, and the drastic economic impact of an unwarranted reduction."

Ladbrokes-Coral and William Hill shares fell by two per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively yesterday but shares in Paddy Power Betfair, which has a much smaller betting shop estate, rose 1.5 per cent.

For racing the election result means the uncertainty over what impact Brexit will have on issues including horse movement and immigration is set to continue.

A statement released by the European & Mediterranean Horseracing Federation, which represents 28 racing authorities, said there was consensus that the UK's decision to leave the European Union should not interfere with free movement of racehorses and breeding stock.

EMHF chairman Brian Kavanagh said: "Brexit is the biggest challenge to face the European horseracing and breeding industries in a long time.

"The sophisticated and effective processes we've developed over the years for the movement of horses and people throughout Europe shouldn't be taken for granted and it's imperative the interests of the thoroughbred racing and breeding sector are taken into account during the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

"It was reassuring to note the unanimous support across EMHF members for the protection of the current position, which has been hard earned over many years." VVLATEST political betting, pages 144-145 VVON Watch Ian Wilkerson's analysis of the general election result WHAT DOES THE RESULT MEAN FOR RACING AND BETTING? How bad is the election result for high street bookmakers? Potentially very serious. Of the major parties only the Conservatives did not promise action on FOBTs and if the findings of the review of stakes and prizes are seen as being too liberal they might not survive parliamentary scrutiny. Government might offer a major cut in stakes as a bargaining chip to get support for other policies. What's the DUP view on FOBTs? There was no mention of gambling in the manifesto, but MP Jim Shannon said in the Commons last year: "There's no place for PS100-a-spin games on the high street in bookmakers that have little or no supervision. There's a simple answer ... and that's to reduce the stake." Any silver lining for bookmakers? The election was a profitable one for layers, although Ladbrokes could be hit if Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson were to become prime minister by July 1, Johnson being the subject of a PS1,000 bet at 100-1. What does the election mean for British racing? With negotiations supposed to start with the EU over Brexit in a matter of days, the hung parliament and weakened prime minister mean uncertainty over issues such as immigration and its effect on racing's staffing crisis and horse movement is set to continue. Did any MPs important to racing and betting lose their seats? Former SNP leader and racing fan Alex Salmond lost his Gordon constituency, while Labour's Sir Alan Meale, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Racing and Bloodstock Industries Group and a supporter of the sport in parliament, lost his Mansfield seat.
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Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 10, 2017
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