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Common sense on problem gambling – at last

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) have damaged far too many lives in Edinburgh East and elsewhere. Players can lose large sums of money on these machines in the space of minutes. 

In Edinburgh in 2016 the cash inserted into FOBTs amounted to £70,000,587 leading to losses of just under £18m. And between 2008 and 2016 individuals lost just under £120m in our city. And, as is so often the case, it’s our poorest communities who are hardest hit. I campaigned hard with Ronnie Cowan MP and other SNP colleagues to highlight that the current spin speed and maximum unit stake are clearly wrecking lives. 

The Tory UK Government seemed to agree – and that’s why they promised to reduce the maximum amount on each bet to £2. But following lobbying from the gambling industry, in the budget chancellor Philip Hammond signalled that he was planning to delay the £2 cap until October 2019, rather than April. 

That highly cynical delay would simply have allowed gambling companies to rake in enormous sums of money in that period, projected at £900 million. All at the cost of untold misery for problem gamblers and their families.

Tracey Crouch, the minister responsible, took the principled decision to resign – she had heard testimonies from affected families and experts. But it took a united front from opposition parties led by the SNP combined with the threat of a full-on backbench Tory rebellion to get the government to climb down. A bit of hope that, despite the chaos of Brexit, common sense can sometimes prevail even at dysfunctional Westminster.