Welsh Assembly Ministers have failed in their attempts to wrest control of the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals that are earning over £1.6 billion per year in the country, despite the Wales Bill moving forward for Royal Assent.
There is only one problem.
I don’t understand it.
I am a reasonably intelligent man, but when it comes to politics, everything I read might as well be written in Welsh. Knowing how to say my name, counting to ten, and saying that I support Manchester United in the native tongue doesn’t help.
After spending several hours reading through press reports on the passing of the new bill, I am comforted by the realisation that nobody else understands what on earth the Wales Bill means to the people of Wales, including the people who wrote it.
But this is what I do know.
The Fixed Odds Betting Terminal Saga
In October, the UK Government announced plans for a wholesale review of the use of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in brick and mortar bookies in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
At the same time, Welsh Assembly Ministers (AMS) drafted wording in the Wales Bill that would enable them to wrest control of the management of FOBTs from those gnarly sorts with dodgy expenses in that big old building in London.
Researchers from The Campaign for Fairer Gambling found that Welsh punters ploughed £50m into the FOBTs during Sep 2014-15, by betting upwards of £100 every 20-seconds. There were also four times as many of these machines in high unemployment areas than low unemployment areas.
The theory was, screw the rest of Great Britain, if Wales could take control of the handling of FOBTs they could either ban them, reduce them in number, or place a reasonable ceiling on maximum bets per 20-seconds.
Wording to establish these particular powers was added to the Wales Bill.
The Welsh National Assembly Didn’t Even Like the Wales Bill
Earlier in the week, the Welsh National Assembly agreed to hand the fate of the Wales Bill to the Houses of Parliament by a vote of 38-17. AMs representing Plaid Cymru and UKIP voted against the passage of the bill. Labour and Conservatives AMs gave it the thumbs up.
The voice of dissension seemed to surround the lack of devolution powers that the bill provided for the people of Wales. The deputy leader of the Wales Green Party, Pippa Bartolotti, called the bill, ‘ridiculously complicated’ and suggested that “It’s very nice to be able to call our Assembly a Parliament, but a Parliament without teeth is no Parliament at all. The Wales Bill does not give us the same constitutional footing as Scotland. Wales deserves no less.”
And The Future of the FOBTs?
The Wales Bill passed through the Houses of Parliament with little fuss, but one aspect of the Bill that didn’t pass was the devolution of laws on FOBTS.
The Welsh AMs may have power over their election system, tax raising, and energy, transportation and legislation surrounding the environment, but when it comes to taking a sledgehammer to the FOBT, they couldn’t wrest it free from the English.
Welsh Labour believes there are more than 1,500 FOBTs in the country earning over £1.6 billion per year.
The bill moves forward for Royal Assent in February, and from my experience watching The Crown on Netflix, I believe that means it ends up in a wooden box with the word ‘The Queen’ written on it.
But what do I know about politics?
I think Welsh should just build a wall.