Two of the UK’s largest bookmakers have been forced to drop new, high stakes, roulette-style games after an investigation by the Gambling Commission.
Paddy Power and Betfred have been accused of trying to cheat new rules on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The industry regulator is continuing its investigation.
On Monday, the maximum stake on FOBTs was slashed from £100 to just £2 in a major victory for campaigners. Previously, punters could lose £100 every 20 seconds and in 2018, gamblers lost £1.7bn to these machines. At the time, the regulator gave a stern warning to bookmakers about attempting to get round the rules.
New games offer high maximum stakes
But on the same day as the new £2 limit came into force, Betfred introduced a game called ‘Virtual Cycle’ where customers could bet up to £500 by obtaining a piece of paper from over-the-counter. The game involved two cyclists racing on a velodrome track with the numbers 1-36, mirroring those on a roulette wheel. As in roulette, bets could then be placed on odd or even numbers, colours, rows and columns. When the second cyclist caught up with the one in front, the number they were on was the winning number.
Paddy Power, another of the UK’s largest bookies, also introduced a new roulette-style game called ‘Pick n 36’, with a maximum stake of £100 – the same as the old FOBT stake.
Yesterday, the Gambling Commission issued a statement saying: “Products recently launched in high street bookmakers Paddy Power, Betfair and Betfred have been pulled following a warning from the gambling commission and the operators could still now face regulatory action as the commission continues to investigate.”
‘FOBTs by the back door’
While all these new games technically comply with new FOBT restrictions, the bookies have come in for fierce criticism.
Sports minister Mims Davies said: “We cut FOBT stakes to £2 to protect vulnerable people from gambling-related harm and operators should respect both the letter and spirit of that change. We are watching closely to see how the industry reacts to this measure and will not hesitate to act if we see evidence of harm.”
Labour’s Deputy Leader, Tom Watson said: “These new games seem like FOBTs by the back door and look like a pretty disgraceful example of bad faith by the bookmakers involved.”
Meanwhile, former sports minister Tracey Crouch, who resigned over a proposed delay to the FOBT stake cut said: “Any attempt to circumnavigate measures that reduce harm would be morally irresponsible.”
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