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  1. ITV Report

Government U-turn over maximum betting machine stakes amid Commons revolt

A planned reduction in the top wager on the machines from £100 to £2 will happen in April rather than October after widespread opposition. Credit: PA

The Government is to make an embarrassing U-turn and reduce the top wager on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 in April rather than October, following widespread opposition.

The reduction is being introduced in a bid to combat problem gambling, and will now come into force in April, after more than 70 MPs set out to sabotage Treasury plans to push it back to October.

That delay sparked the resignation of sports minister Tracey Crouch as well as condemnation from MPs who believed that the cut was vital to protect vulnerable people and families.

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The change was announced in a written statement to MPs by Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking to ITV News following the Government's U-turn, Ms Crouch said she was "really pleased that common sense has prevailed, I've argued for a long time that these machines need to be curbed... I was extremely disappointed when the Chancellor delayed implementation so I'm pleased that they've seen sense and are bringing forward that reduction".

The MP for Chatham and Aylesford continued that she was "sad" she had to resign from the Government in protest over plans to delay a cut in maximum stakes by six months as she "thoroughly enjoyed being sports minister, I felt that it was the right job for me in Government".

She added she was left with no choice as her "voice was not being heard".

However, Ms Crouch said she did not believe her resignation was in vain since "as consequence of that resignation, Parliamentarians have come together with faith leaders and charities and I think it has demonstrated to the Government the strength of feeling on the issue, so I'm pleased that they have listened to the wider collective voice".

An impact assessment published in May last year suggested that the new curb should be implemented within nine to 12 months.

But Chancellor Philip Hammond moved it to October in last month’s budget, telling the Treasury Committee last week that following engagement with the gaming industry it would be a “sensible” date.

A campaign co-led by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith but with cross-party support on Monday tabled amendments to finance legislation to force ministers to make the change in April.

The Government was widely expected to lose when the amendments came up for debate next week.

The maximum stake will be cut from £100 to £2. Credit: PA

Mr Duncan Smith raised the issue with a question at PMQs, after meeting Mrs May earlier in Downing Street.

He told her he had been “enormously proud” that the Government had agreed to act on FOBTs which have “caused endless harm (and), terrible damage to families”.

Mrs May told him an announcement was coming, adding: “I know he has campaigned on this issue with a passion because, as he said, this question of the maximum stakes for FOBTs is one which 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 addiction can devastate lives.”

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson attacked the “disastrous political judgment” shown by the Culture Secretary and Chancellor.

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He said: “It’s very sad that it took an honourable resignation of a good minister and a cross-party revolt to achieve the blindingly obvious and necessary reforms to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.

“Whilst this is a personal humiliation for Jeremy Wright, this is a very good day for the many thousands of people whose families and communities are blighted by gambling addiction.”

The British Amusement Catering Trade Association (Bacta), which represents the amusements and gaming machine industry, also welcomed the change.

Chief executive John White said: “There was never any justification for it being delayed beyond this point.

“This is a victory for common sense. The right decision has been reached, one that is an important step towards reducing gambling-related harm.”