Shares in UK gambling firms plunge as plans for online curbs emerge

Shares in UK gambling firms lost nearly £1.2bn in value after the Guardian revealed that MPs had recommended stringent curbs on online casino games worth more than £2bn a year to the industry.

MPs from the cross-party group on gambling-related harm, who joined the successful campaign to cut stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to £2, recommended the same limit be applied to web-based slot machine games.

The MPs, who include the former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, are understood to be hopeful they can convince policymakers in No 10 to include tighter controls on gambling firms in the party’s general election manifesto.

Labour has already backed much tougher regulation of the gambling industry, indicating that its wings could be clipped regardless of the outcome of the election.

If the proposals were adopted, it would threaten online casinos’ take from slot-machine players, which accounts for more than a third of their income according to the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator.

The £2bn figure would rise to £2.9bn if the limits were to include other casino games such as roulette, which was available at £100 a spin in high street bookmakers before the government agreed to rein in the machines after a campaign that united politicians and campaigners across the political spectrum.

Markets responded to the MPs’ recommendation by staging a mass sell-off of gambling stocks on Monday. The online-only casino firm 888 was hardest hit, losing nearly 14% of its value in a day, a slump that cut its market value by £91m.

The largest fall in sterling terms was suffered by Ladbrokes’ owner, GVC, whose 10.5% fall equates to nearly £547m in lost value, overshadowing the Isle of Man-based firm’s announcement of a new chairman.

William Hill registered a £230m decline, Paddy Power Betfair’s owner, Flutter Entertainment, £217.5m, and GameSys, which makes online slot machine games, £78m.

The MPs’ report put forward a series of proposals to tighten gambling regulation, with the £2 stake limit the most eye-catching among them.

“If they are not acceptable in land-based venues they should not be allowed online,” said the all-party parliamentary group, which is led by the Labour MP Carolyn Harris.

Other recommendations that could crimp gambling revenues or increase firms’ costs include an end to betting by credit card, restrictions on “VIP” accounts that reward the heaviest losers with free gifts and an investigation into the use of non-disclosure agreements to silence addicts and victims of crimes committed by them.


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