Paddy Power and Betfred have removed new gambling products from their shops after the bookmakers were accused of trying to cheat new regulations that cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2.
The two firms launched the games on Monday, the same day restrictions on FOBTs came into force. The existence of the new games was revealed by the Guardian, prompting industry regulator the Gambling Commission to say it was investigating the matter.
The sports minister, Mims Davies, said the government was “watching very closely” to see if bookmakers were bending the rules, while the Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, accused firms of trying to reintroduce FOBTs “by the back door”.
The Guardian understands that both Paddy Power and Betfred have removed the roulette-style games – called Pick ‘n’ 36 and Virtual Cycling – in the light of the attention from MPs and the regulator.
“We’ve taken down Virtual Cycling to allow further discussion with the Gambling Commission,” said Betfred.
Paddy Power declined to comment.
Betfred began offering its Virtual Cycling game on Monday, even as restrictions on FOBTs were imposed despite vociferous lobbying by bookmakers, which warned 4,500 stores could close at the cost of 21,000 jobs.
The 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, five times what was possible on the FOBT games that are now banned. 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 game is called Pick ‘n’ 36 and 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.
William Hill has been considering launching a similar game but is yet to do so. The company did not say whether its final decision would be influenced by the commission’s warning to its rivals.