The DUP is facing the first public pressure from an element of its support base to use its key Westminster role to influence UK-wide government policy.
Until now, the DUP’s supporters have overwhelmingly endorsed the party’s deal with the Tories which has secured £1 billion for public services in Northern Ireland, and influential groups such as the Orange Order have explicitly said that they will not make demands of Arlene Foster’s party.
But now the evangelical Christian lobby group CARE – which has a close relationship with the DUP and helped draft legislation the party got through Stormont in 2015 which criminalised men who pay for sex in Northern Ireland – has called on the DUP to act over gambling.
In a statement headed ‘DUP under pressure to stop alleged government plans to scrap Gambling Review’, the lobby group said it was “very concerned” at reports that the chancellor was calling for the government’s review of gambling to be scrapped.
The Daily Mail reported that Philip Hammond had specifically blocked slashing the maximum stake per spin of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), high-stakes machines which critics have dubbed ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’.
There is uncertainty over the government’s position on the issue, with conflicting reports about whether the changes will go ahead.
CARE said that the terminals – where up to £100 can be wagered every two seconds – have been linked to crippling debt, crime, mental health issues, family breakdown and suicide.
CARE’s Northern Ireland policy officer, Mark Baillie, said: “Now that the DUP play a significant role in ensuring the Conservative government remain in power they must hold Theresa May and the Conservative Party to account over their commitment to create a fairer society.
“FOBT’s do not fit into this narrative – they may work for the bookmakers and the taxman – but not for problem gamblers, their families or society as a whole.”
When asked if the DUP would seek to use its influence with the government on the issue, the party pointed the News Letter to comments from Sammy Wilson last month in which he said that the FOBT reforms have “the support of churches, local authorities, The Royal Society for Public Health and every political party in Westminster”.
He added: “The case for this change is clear and I urge the government to act now to cut the stake. There is no excuse for the misery these machines are causing and the problems associated with them are obvious.”