U.K. Treasury Pulls Out Stops to Swerve Revolt on Gambling Curbs

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Treasury is deploying a series of parliamentary tricks to avoid a Conservative Party revolt over plans to delay a clampdown on fixed-odds betting terminals.

In last month’s budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced the government would reduce the maximum stake gamblers can place on the machines to 2 pounds ($2.60) from 100 pounds. The terminals are central to many bookmakers’ business models, but are also blamed for encouraging problematic behavior.

After lobbying from the gambling industry, the measure was delayed until October 2019, six months later than supporters of the crackdown had expected. Sports Minister Tracey Crouch resigned in protest, saying that 1.6 billion pounds will be spent on the machines in the next year, and that there are two gambling-related suicides a day in Britain.

With other Tory lawmakers rallying round Crouch in attacking the delay, the government faced a defeat in any vote on the measure. So it has decided to avoid a vote.

Parliamentary Tactics

According to two people involved with the decision, speaking on condition of anonymity, the restrictions will be implemented by a statutory instrument, a form of legislation that can’t be amended. That instrument had been slated for introduction on Monday, according to one person. It will now be held back until next year, according to another.

Hammond, meanwhile, confirmed to lawmakers that he will be depriving Parliament of its usual opportunity to propose changes to the budget. He won’t put forward an amendment to the Law Resolution, as had been traditional. That means it will be difficult for rebels to find a way to vote against the delay in the gambling restrictions.

“It’s the role of the government to propose a budget for Parliament to vote on,” Hammond told the Treasury Committee. “It’s not our constitutional tradition that Parliament line-by-line amends the budget.”

Hammond said he wasn’t trying to protect fixed-odds betting terminals. “I think they are terrible things,” he said. But he said that the cut in stakes will mean 15,000 to 20,000 jobs going and many bookmakers closing. “There will be very many thousands of people who will be negatively impacted by this, losing their jobs and their businesses closing down,” he said.

Shares in gambling shop owners including William Hill Plc and Paddy Power Betfair Plc plummeted when the rule to cut the stake was passed in May.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.