Paddy Power and Betfred may face watchdog sanctions

Bookmakers were accused of trying to cheat rules curbing fixed-odds betting terminals with high-stakes games

Paddy Power and Betfred could face sanctions from the Gambling Commission after being told to remove new roulette-style games similar to those on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

The bookmakers were accused of trying to cheat new regulations that cut the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2 after launching the games on Monday, the same day restrictions on FOBT roulette came into force.

The commission said the firms had withdrawn the products from shops, while their rival, William Hill, abandoned plans to launch its own after a stern warning from the regulator.

It said the firms could still face regulatory action for seeking to undermine the FOBT stake cut, which came about following an investigation by the Guardian. Senior staff responsible for bringing the games to market could also be investigated, the commission said.

Richard Watson, executive director for enforcement, said: “We have been absolutely clear with operators about our expectations to act responsibly following the stake cut implementation this week.

“We have told operators to take down new products which undermine the changes, and we will investigate any other products that are not within the spirit and intention of the new rules.’’

Paddy Power and Betfred had both launched games with multiple similarities to roulette, dubbed Pick ’n’ 36 and Virtual Cycling respectively. Betfred’s game allows a stake of up to £500, five times what was possible on FOBTs, albeit less frequently.

A William Hill game called Wonderball had yet to be launched, although staff in one bookmaking shop said on Monday that they expected to be offering it soon.

Paddy Power’s Pick ’n’ 36 game
Paddy Power’s Pick ’n’ 36 game. Photograph: Rob Booth/The Guardian

“We’ve taken down Virtual Cycling to allow further discussion with the Gambling Commission,” said Betfred.

Paddy Power declined to comment.

William Hill said on Tuesday that it had no plans to launch Wonderball.

Gambling With Lives, a campaign group set up by Charles and Liz Ritchie after their son, Jack, took his own life aged 24 after becoming addicted to FOBTs, questioned why the games were introduced on the day of the reduction in FOBT stakes.

They said: “Was this a gesture of defiance that has now backfired? This all reinforces our call for all gambling products to be safety tested and licensed before they can be marketed.”

Betfred’s Virtual Cycling game allows gamblers to place bets on a piece of paper obtained over the counter, showing a graphic similar to a roulette table. The game features a maximum stake of £500. Players bet on when an animated cyclist travelling around a track will be overtaken by virtual competitors, based on numbers corresponding to sections of the track.

Paddy Power’s Pick ’n’ 36 features a maximum stake of £100, the same level as FOBTs before the new restrictions. Like Betfred’s Virtual Cycling game, players bet on numbers between one and 36, as well as on other eventualities similar to roulette. A TV screen displays “hot” and “cold” numbers, giving the impression that the numbers selected are not random – a feature heavily criticised by the GambleAware charity.


Rob Davies

The GuardianTramp

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