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UK finance minister signals support for review of gambling machines

[LONDON] Britain's finance minister has indicated he will support the outcome of a review of high-stake gambling machines in betting shops even if it reduces tax revenue.

Denying reports of a rift in government over sums staked on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), Finance Minister Philip Hammond said in a letter seen by the Observer newspaper that he supported a long-awaited review into the machines.

Reports last month said Mr Hammond had blocked attempts by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to curb the use of the machines in order to preserve more than £400 million (S$704.002 million) a year in tax revenues.

The terminals allow users to bet as much as £100 every 20 seconds on electronic versions of games such as roulette, and some lawmakers want this maximum stake to be cut to as little as £2 to help protect problem gamblers.

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"Recent media reports on the status of the review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures are entirely without foundation," Mr Hammond was quoted as saying in a letter to the Bishop of St Albans.

"Both I and my department fully support DCMS's work to ensure the UK's gambling regime continues to balance the needs of vulnerable people, consumers who gamble responsibly, and those who work in this sector."

The Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, has led opposition by the Church of England to the machines, saying they had a devastating effect on some vulnerable groups in society.

He sought assurances from Mr Hammond that the review would not be blocked, the newspaper said.

The review was due to be published in the summer, but was not now expected before the end of October at the earliest, the newspaper said.

Shares in Britain's biggest bookmakers Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill were both trading down 0.5 per cent in early deals on Monday.

The bookmakers argue that FOBTs play a key role in supporting high street betting shops across Britain.