Gambling firms agree to slash FOBT stakes in Northern IrelandBy Luke Haward, CDC Gaming ReportsFebruary 2, 2019 at 1:22 pmAs has been covered ad infinitum, fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) will see a massive reduction in max stakes come April, from the current £100 to £2, in a bid to protect vulnerable gamblers. (It’s worth noting that many detractors have argued that the true problem lies online, where maximum stakes are much higher for many games of luck.) But one region which hadn’t been in line for this legally mandated reduction was Northern Ireland, since the Gambling Act of 2005 only applies to England, Scotland and Wales.Northern Island has thus far more or less tolerated the existence of FOBTs; the machines exist in a sort of legal grey area in the country. However, earlier this month Councillor John Kyle tabled a motion at Belfast City Council calling on betting firms to voluntarily follow suit and lower the stakes to the same £2. Ladbrokes had already announced their own intention to do so, so in a sense Kyle was asking the competition to follow Ladbrokes’ lead. On a bottom-line level, this is asking a great deal of the gambling industry, since it will inevitably put a dent in profits and potentially threaten the viability of some high street betting shops.However, somewhat surprisingly, it seems that bookies are falling in line with the request. Whether this is a sign of progressive thinking or just a means of avoiding another publicity nightmare, who can say. Either way, Paddy Power and William Hill have both confirmed that they will voluntarily apply the reduction across Northern Ireland as well.“It just remains for Sean Graham, McLeans and Toals to follow suit,” Councillor Kyle said following the two firms’ announcement. “I would like them to show social responsibility by following the example of Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power and voluntarily reducing the maximum stake to £2… That would be a really responsible move and would reduce significantly the damage that gambling addiction can do to individuals, families and communities.”Belfast City Council have also been pressing the Department of Health to conduct a review into provisions for gambling addicts and to create a service under the Department to caring for problem gamblers. This is due in part to a survey published by the Department for Communities which found a problem gambler rate in Northern Ireland of 2.3 percent, over 400 percent higher than the rate found across the UK as a whole.This is a strong move by the betting industry in Northern Ireland towards a more responsible approach. It’s heartening to see voluntary moves made, especially ones which eat into profit lines, in the name of social responsibility. It seems likely that the smaller bookies will fall into line on this one, as well, unless the cynical opportunity for some firms to potentially capture market share by keeping their FOBT stakes as-is proves to be too tempting.