Tuesday, 31 May 2022

The imaginary government U-turn on gambling

In the dishonest campaign against fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), the final trick played by anti-gambling activists was to pretend that there had been a 'delay' and a 'U-turn'.
In May 2018, when the government announced that it would be cutting the maximum stake on these machines from £100 to £2, as campaigners had demanded, no date was given. Three months later, it was reported that the government intended to enforce the change from April 2020. That may or may not have been true, but when the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, formally announced the policy in the October Budget Statement, it clearly stated that it would begin in October 2019.
If the earlier reports were true, the government had brought the date forward by six months. As Huw Merrimen MP (who supported the stake reduction) wrote at the time... 

When the changes were first announced earlier this year, there was no clear date set as to when they would come into effect. Some MP’s wanted to wait until April 2020, but a cross-party group argued that this would be too late. That is why the government agreed on a compromise and Philip Hammond announced that the stake would be reduced in October 2019.

The one thing that the government had not done was push the date back. And yet that is what the anti-gambling lobby pretended had happened. Tracey Crouch, the fanatical sports minister, resigned over this supposed 'delay', claiming that "implementation of these changes are now being delayed until October 2019 due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests."
The media went along with this conceit, portraying the switch to October 2019 as a 'six-month postponement' (the Guardian) and a 'U-turn' (New Statesman) rather than the six month acceleration that it was.  

The business of pressure groups is pressure, not evidence, and nothing piles on pressure in contemporary politics like talk of a U-turn.

The government is currently reading through thousands of responses to its public consultation on gambling regulation and the anti-gambling lobby are at it again.
From the Sunday Times...

Ministers are expected to water down plans for a crackdown on betting giants after opposition from the gambling industry.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) will next month publish a review of 17-year-old gambling legislation that was expected to include the introduction of a “polluter pays” mandatory levy on betting firms to fund addiction and research.

Expected by whom? The government has announced no plans and the consultation document does not even hint at a levy. It doesn't mention any specific policies. It is a general call for evidence.  

Premier League clubs were also expected to be forced to remove gambling sponsors from the front of football shirts as part of the biggest shake-up of advertising since tobacco promotion was outlawed.

Again, expected by whom? The government has not said, or even implied, that it is going to ban gambling sponsorship in football. There have been rumours from unnamed sources, but nothing more than that. 

These policies are on the wishlist of the likes of Derek Webb and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling-Related Harm. There is no evidence that they have ever been on the government's agenda.

However, both proposals are understood to have been watered down as the government prepares to publish its white paper.

According to sources familiar with the discussions, No 10 is likely to block the introduction of a compulsory levy in favour of greater voluntary contributions amid fears of imposing further taxes on the industry.

Anonymous briefings happen, of course, but "sources familiar with the discussions" is an unusually vague phrase. "Downing Street insiders" or "sources close to government" would be the more typical way of describing someone involved in the decision-making. "Sources familiar with the discussions" could be anyone.

The only people named in the article are Carolyn Harris and Iain Duncan Smith, both from the APPG on Gambling-Related Harm (of which Derek Webb is the sole funder now that the likes of Bacta and the Hippodrome casino have dropped out). They are outraged, natch, and will be delighted with the free publicity.

 The Daily Mail has cribbed from the Sunday Times and is also screaming 'U-Turn'...

A crackdown on betting giants is to be diluted by ministers - to the fury of anti-gambling campaigners.

Plans to be published next month had been expected to introduce a ‘polluter pays’ levy on gambling firms to fund research into addiction.

They were also expected to propose a ban on the names of gambling sponsors appearing on the front of Premier League football shirts.

But officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are said to have retreated from both proposals following opposition from the industry.
On Twitter, one of the Mail's reporters upgraded an expectation to a "promise":
There has been no such promise. The government has remained tight-lipped throughout. It cannot U-turn on something it has never announced and never publicly supported. 
You can see what the tactic is here. When the government publishes the white paper and it doesn't include every extremist policy demanded by the anti-gambling cranks, the cranks will claim that it has been "watered down" by the government at the behest of the all-powerful gambling lobby - and the docile media will go along with it as usual.

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