|The UK gaming board is likely to take legal action against Britain's bookmakers, challenging their right to install electronic betting machines. |
The board believes that the fixed odds betting terminals, which offer a number of games including roulette and bingo, should be reclassified as gaming machines. The machines would therefore be subject to significant restrictions.
The gaming board will launch a test case within the next fortnight. If lawsuit succeeds and the devices are reclassified as gaming machines it will put a big dent in one of the high-street bookmakers' fastest growing revenue streams.
The machines have proved to be highly popular and profitable for high-street bookies. The Hilton Group, owners of Ladbrokes bookmakers, said last month that over 1,000 machines have been installed in its shops with a further 1,000 planned by the first quarter of 2003.
Weekly turnover from the machines at Ladbrokes is in excess of £11 million ($16.61 million), which translates into annual profits of around £14 million ($21.14) and so far only 20% of its shops have them installed.
After considering legal advice, the gaming board believes that these are in effect gaming machines, and that they therefore should comply with gaming regulations. By law there should be no more than two gaming machines per betting shop, with maximum stakes of 30p and maximum prizes of £25. The fixed odds machines do not meet these requirements.
The board has asked the Association of British Bookmakers, the bookmakers’ trade body, to ask its members not to install any more machines until the legal status is clarified.
However, a spokesman for Ladbrokes said that it believed they were not unlawful and it would be installing more machines when suppliers deliver them.
Lawyers acting for other high-street bookmakers are reviewing their legal position to decide whether to co-operate with the test case.