Hammond betting machines clampdown block claims branded 'fake news'

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Sports Minister Tracey Crouch has dismissed as "fake news" claims that Chancellor Philip Hammond was blocking a clampdown on high-stakes betting machines.

Opposition politicians tore into Mr Hammond following reports that the Treasury was concerned about the loss of revenue from any restrictions on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

Tom Watson, the shadow culture, media and sport secretary and deputy Labour leader, said Mr Hammond had "ridden roughshod" over Cabinet colleagues, while the Liberal Democrats accused the Government of putting "cash before responsibility".

A review into FOBTs was launched in October 2016, but Ms Crouch told MPs in June it had been delayed by the general election and there would be no further announcement until October this year "at the earliest". 

Ministers have been under pressure to cut the maximum stake that can be placed on the terminals from £100 to just £2 in an effort to curb problem gambling.

The Daily Mail reported that Mr Hammond's Treasury opposes the drastic cut, warning it could slash tax receipts.

About £1.8 billion is wagered on the terminals every year, contributing more than £400 million to the Exchequer. The newspaper quoted a Whitehall source as warning that the Treasury fears cutting the stake to £2 would be "financially crippling".

But Ms Crouch tweeted a link to the Daily Mail story, adding the words: "Fake news."

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said: "The Government is currently undertaking a review of stakes and prizes of gambling machines, that includes fixed odds betting terminals. The review will be published in the Autumn."

Mr Watson said: "If the Treasury has insisted the review is shelved then the Chancellor has ridden roughshod over his Cabinet colleagues and overwhelming public evidence about the danger these highly addictive machines pose.

"British gamblers lost £1.8 billion on fixed-odds betting terminals last year alone, money that could make a better contribution to the economy if spent elsewhere."

Lib Dem culture, media and sport spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: "The Government are putting cash before responsibility. This review is well overdue and there is an abundance of evidence showing the damage these machines do.

"Liberal Democrats have been calling for a £2 maximum stake on FOBTs for nearly a decade and there is immense support for that. The Government must urgently think again."