The UK Government has announced it will introduce maximum bets on poker machines to address problem gambling.
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock announced he was limiting bets to 2 pounds ($3.60) per spin – down from the current limit of 100 pounds ($179).
The minister described the machines, known as fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBTs) in the UK, as “a very serious social blight” that “needs to be tackled”.
Australian governments have previously rejected the policy, despite having a bigger problem with gaming machine losses.
Mr Hancock said it was time to limit the machines caused to individuals and families.
“Sometimes in politics you have the chance to really do something to help people and, in particular in this case, some very vulnerable people,” Mr Hancock told the BBC.
“Hundreds of thousands of people who lose thousands of pounds on these machines — and, normally, people who don’t have thousands of pounds to lose.”
Lobby groups’ concerns largely ignored
Eight years ago in Australia the Productivity Commission recommended the Government bring in maximum $1 bets on poker machines.
But that proposal was never taken up following an intense lobbying campaign by the clubs and the gambling industry.
Meet Australia’s pokies king
From humble beginnings, Len Ainsworth built a fortune making poker machines – and he has no time for the “total rubbish” suggestion that pokies are designed to addict.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said he hoped the UK’s move would increase pressure on Australian governments to introduce similar measures.
“The Federal Government has it within its power to legislate for $1 maximum bets, as well as other harm minimisation measures like mandatory pre-commitment,” Mr Wilkie said.
“Unfortunately, the Government has shown itself to be thoroughly uninterested when it comes to reining in poker machines.
And no wonder, when you look at the enormous donations both major parties receive from the gambling industry.”
Lobby groups in the UK have voiced their concerns about the 2-pound maximum, but they have been largely ignored.
The Gambling Commission said about 1.8 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) in revenue was generated for the betting industry by FOBTs, with 400 million pounds ($719 million) of taxes going to the Government.
“It’s a seismic decision, there’s no doubt about that,” the Association of British Bookmakers’ Malcolm George told the BBC.
“We now have to examine what we will have to do with the shop estate.
“We expect there may be 4,000 shop closures, potentially 20,000 job losses.
“We’ve got to work out what the future for betting shops is on the High Street. It is going to be a bleak future for some period of time.”
Decision ‘a victory for common sense’
But former betting machine addict Tony Franklin said the decision was a victory for common sense.
“I am still dealing with the consequences of a ruinous addiction,” Mr Franklin told the BBC.
“My wife, we are estranged but she is off work and suffers stress and ill health as a result of the carnage that my gambling addiction created.
“This is happening up and down this country every single day.
“The Government is absolutely right to send a warning shot out that change is needed.”
The proposal still needs to pass Parliament and, if it does, will be phased in to allow the gambling industry time to adapt.
The UK Government says it is also looking to crack down on online gambling.
– with additional reporting by staff