Gaming industry cautious about challenging Fixed Odds Betting consultation

Back in the autumn, the Government launched a consultation on the future of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) following political pressure at Westminster.

Backbenchers had argued that these machines – which enable punters to lose £100 every couple of minutes – were causing untold social harm and personal tragedies. In the Radio Clip we featured in the earlier story, John Humphrys described them on the TODAY programme as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling.’

As often happens, campaigners press their case and the Government’s consultation was launched on October 31st and closed this week.

Last week, the Sunday Times ran a story suggesting that the Government might well opt for a radical change by reducing the level of stake allowed for such machines – possibly as low as £2, prompting howls of protest from bookmakers and racing enthusiasts. Both fear such a draconian step would damage their businesses, as they argue that there is no evidence that these machines are causing the damage that gambling charities suggest.

From a consultation point of view, our interest is in the suggestions that the Government had, in any case been persuaded. The day the consultation was launched, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson argued that the consultation was nothing more than a delaying tactic, and that Ministers should just get on with it. Was it really a genuine consultation? Had it been pre-determined?

Now the Gaming industry has to decide whether to challenge it.

If it dislikes the decision, can it argue that it was in breach of Gunning One – that proposals in a consultation must be at a formative stage and that the decision-makers still have an open mind?  Smoke signals from the industry suggest that a Judicial Review would be a ‘last resort’ and our guess is that the Government took enough care to ensure that its consultation was robust enough to withstand challenge.

Possibly some Ministers are learning how to face down powerful commercial interest groups by avoiding mistakes in their public consultations.

As the Department of Health showed in successfully defending a massive legal onslaught from the Tobacco industry, a well-prepared exercise with great pre-consultation and comprehensive impact analyses can make a big difference.

The article for this piece can be found here: Racing Post.

About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 400 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 300 different Topic papers and over 40 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

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