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A new FOBT Code? - It must be party conference time!

A new FOBT Code? - It must be party conference time!

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling believes that not enough is being done to protect vulnerable people from problem gambling.

The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) proudly showed off its new Responsible Gambling Code (the third one) at both Labour and Conservative conferences. Six pages covered with pictures of happy customers and staff avidly discussing the “world leading” revised player protection measures and “world leading” revision.

The remainder of the pamphlet, written in what seems like Orwellian double-speak  had the word “responsible” dispersed about 25 times throughout and outlined that the voluntary measures were voluntarily  mandatory, making sure the player had to make a decision (if they wanted to), but that they had to make that decision voluntarily!

The Campaign has been looking for expert assistance to translate the new Code, which is to all intents and purposes essentially the last failed Code with some minor tweaks, but George Orwell was not available.

The first Code was introduced in 2004 and helped to convince Tessa Jowell that, despite FOBTs being illegally introducedby the bookmakers, they should be legitimised under the 2005 Gambling Act. The second Code was introduced in 2014 and this was the amber warning sign that all was not well in FOBT-land.

The 2015 revised Code is the red danger sign that it really is time to Stop the FOBTs. Government should deliver the Campaign objective of FOBT stake reduction to a £2 maximum per spin, as will be demanded by the nearly 100 local authorities, when the Newham proposal is soon re-submitted under the Sustainable Communities Act.

The Campaign believes that one addition to the previous Code the bookies are relying on to help to try and maintain the illusion that they care more about problem gambling than they do about the bottom line is: "Behavioural Analytics". This is not the “appliance of science”. Since commerce began, entrepreneurs have studied their customers, using memory, then pen and paper and now computer technology. Remote gambling operators, including all the large bookies in the ABB, have been using behavioural analytics and algorithms to help them increase customer engagement in gambling and therefore profits.

There is no evidence that there has been any use so far of this technology to decrease customer engagement in gambling. Previous remote poker analysis using “algorithms” produced claims that only 71 out of one million customers showed problematic gambling behaviour. Like limbo dancing, set the bar so high enough and every “algorithm” will bounce under!

The ABB says that its members must “encourage customers to [exclude] from other gambling premises” including arcades, bingo halls and casinos. Yet these other sectors do not operate FOBTs and are going to the extraordinary lengths when recruiting employees. Their job adverts even state: “Don't confuse what we do with the "betting shops" that you see on the High Street: we're very different (the maximum stake is £2 in our machines).  We take our social responsibility very seriously and partner closely with the relevant agencies to keep our environment safe, legal and fun!” 

A recent newspaper article in Kent led with the headline "Gambling self-exclusion scheme is failing to help kick the habit"and explained how a BBC reporter tested the bookmakers exclusion pilot scheme and found eight out of the ten betting shops in the scheme failed to prevent him gambling. The Campaign correctly predicted that this local-area pilot would be just as ineffective as the current shop-by-shop paper-based system. 

However, the bookmakers’ spokesperson, trying to prop up this strand of their “world leading” measures, was actually clearer than the double speak in their revised code when he said “we do not accept this was a serious illustration of what happens when someone genuinely wants to self-exclude”.

So an addicted FOBT addict wouldn’t try to breach their exclusion? Are they aware of the 21,000 recorded breaches of self-exclusion last year alone in betting shops or are they not “serious illustrations” of the abject failure of this measure?

Apparently the bookies have discovered from their last Code that three quarters of all those players who voluntarily set a limit on their losses or time spent on FOBTs, stuck to it. Why would the bookies think this is cause for self-congratulation when these “volunteers” account for less than 0.01% of sessions? 

Yet claims that the average FOBT session lasts only a few minutes with losses of just a few quid continue, ignoring another  story of FOBT addiction, losses amounting to tens of thousands, criminal behaviour as a consequence and a family torn apart.  

The really stunning omission from this latest bit of spinning Code from the ABB. There is no reference to, addressing of or mention of the recent evaluation by NatCen of the bookies’ limit setting measures - which concluded they were ineffective with “no statistical evidence” of any impact on spend or length of session.

Doubtless, a minority of MPs have bought into this new Code pretence and with a late charm offensive on MPs underway, it will be interesting to see how many MPs fall for the bookies PR spin.

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