By David Wilcock and Shaun Connolly, Press Association Political Correspondents
The UK Government is to make an embarrassing u-turn over the timing of a cut to maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in the face of a Commons revolt.
A reduction in the top wager from £100 to just £2 to combat problem gambling 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.
The change was announced in a written statement to MPs by Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright on Wednesday afternoon.
Ms Crouch, who pushed a gambling review including the cut through the Commons last May, told the Press Association: “I’m really pleased that common sense has prevailed.
“It is clear that these machines cause significant harm and I was sorry that the Government took the initial decision to delay the implementation of the reduction of stakes, but I am delighted that they are now bringing it forward to April.”
Asked if she would like to return to Government, Ms Crouch said: “There isn’t a vacancy. That’s been filled. So, I will just get on and do what I’m going to do.”
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.
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.”
In his written statement, Mr Wright said: “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.”
He added that the Government “will expect the gambling industry to work with it to reduce the effect of any impact on jobs and to support employees that may be affected by this expedited timeline”.
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson attacked the “disastrous political judgment” shown by the Culture Secretary and Chancellor.
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.” (PA)