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Back down over gambling delays, CARE urges chancellor following Sports Minister’s resignation

The chancellor must back down over delays in cutting the maximum stake for fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), a Christian advocacy group has said.

Christian Action Research & Education’s (CARE) statement comes in response to Tracey Crouch’s resignation as Sports Minister in protest at the delays.

CARE said Ms Crouch’s resignation could have been avoided if chancellor Philip Hammond had stuck to the original plan in implementing the cuts.

“The resignation of Tracey Crouch could have been avoided had the chancellor stuck to the original plan of implementing the much-needed cut by April 2019,” James Mildred, of CARE, told The Catholic Universe.

“Tracey Crouch has championed this cut, engaging fully with communities that have been affected by this. To overrule her knowledge in this area and side with the bookies is a grave mistake.

“This all looks like there has been a dodgy back-room deal done with the bookies at the expense of communities and problem gamblers that will lose out with this delay.

“The idea that bookies need more time to prepare is simply absurd when weighed up against the profits that they will bank because of this delay,” Mr Mildred continued.

“This is a massive own-goal by the chancellor. There is clear cross-party support for implementing this cut sooner rather than later.

“No-one should underestimate the damage these machines have done and will continue to do, especially in the most economically-deprived communities.

“The Government must save themselves from an embarrassing defeat as MPs from all parties have signalled they will challenge this decision.

“The chancellor should back down now and stick to the original plan.”

Ms Crouch resigned from her ministerial post as she insisted that not reducing the maximum wager on FOBTs from £100 to £2 until October 2019 was “unjustifiable”, and indicated it could cost lives.

Announcing her departure from Government, Ms Crouch tweeted: ‘Politicians come and go but principles stay with us forever.

‘Unfortunately, implementation of these changes are now being delayed until October 2019 due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests.

‘From the time of the announcement to reduce stakes and its implementation, over £1.6 billion will be lost on these machines.

‘In addition, two people will tragically take their lives every day due to gambling-related problems and, for that reason as much as any other, I believe this delay is unjustifiable.

‘I know there is never a good time to resign and appreciate that this will be an unwelcome distraction, but as the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in the House this morning, it is a fact of Government that ministers must adhere to collective responsibility and cannot disagree with policy, let alone when it is policy made against your wishes relating to your own portfolio.’

Theresa May said she was “disappointed” by Ms Crouch’s move and insisted there had been no delay.

However, shadow culture secretary Tom Watson tweeted praise for Ms Crouch saying: ‘She poured her heart and soul into a significant review of these destructive machines, faced down a systematic lobbying attempt by the gambling industry and took the right decision for those suffering from problem gambling, their families and communities.’

Mr Watson blamed Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Wright for the delay, saying: ‘The new Secretary of State has threatened all of this good work. He has prioritised corporate interests over victims, profits over public health and greed over good. He should be thoroughly ashamed.’

The resignation came after the Government made it clear it was standing firm when Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss failed to give ground during the Budget debate in the Commons.

Ms Truss told MPs the Government was “certainly happy to discuss” the matter, but gave no indication of a change of policy.

Ms Crouch had been a leading campaigner in reducing the maximum stake for FOBTs.

Meanwhile, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith joined cross-party calls to bring the change forward to April 2019.

Picture: Someone using a gambling machine. (Daniel Hambury/PA).