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Are the bookies (and GambleAware) gambling on fake news, when the odds of success could not be lower?

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling asks questions about the independent charity GambleAware and what it is doing to reduce the damage caused by fixed odds betting terminals in the UK.


Marc Etches, the CEO of the rebranded GambleAware, came out to bat for the bookies last week taking on the sea of news that has engulfed the FOBT debate.

Charities normally stay out of the fray when the political going gets hot, at least publicly, but the recent bookmaker misrepresentation of reports, academic research and data on FOBTs could well have got under Mr Etches’ collar. The last straw must have been the absurd claims by the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) that machines in Casinos (£5 spin), amusement arcades and bingo halls (£2 spin) and pubs (£1 spin) are dangerous and irresponsible, whilst FOBTs are saving lives.

So, he trotted off to the Guardian, coincidentally running into Malcolm George, CEO of the ABB who was looking tanned after last week’s radioactive incident.

However, along with Mr Etches, they pushed back, slamming a Parliamentary Report that criticised him stating, “it was “problematic” that a cross-party group of MPs, which has recommended slashing the maximum FOBT stake to £2, is backed by firms that profit from rival forms of gambling”. 

No mention of the Parliamentary Betting and Gambling Group, but then that group has never criticised him or the discredited organisation he heads.

In unison Mr Etches and Mr George condemned the rest of the gambling industry for not agreeing with them on FOBTs. However, they are not just condemning those industry people and companies that have put their heads above the parapet willing to shoulder the “commercial interests” accusation being levelled at them. Instead they have laid a warning down to the entire gambling industry and it’s now time the rest of the industry woke up and stood up. This “one man lobbying machine” who heads an “independent” charity responsible for the research and treatment of problematic gambling, has nailed his colours to the mast – the bookmakers’ £100 a spin FOBT mast.

As editorial in a trade publication explained, “…[Mr] Etches …is dabbling in the art of confusing the public with flawed arguments, he is also deflecting from the issue at hand”.

Mr Etches’ claims that calls for FOBT stake reduction are “selfish” and a “disservice” to problem gamblers, were commented on as being “fake news”.

Meanwhile, back in the real world of corporate struggles, one brave front runner to be the next CEO of William Hill waffled away on gambling advertising saying, “I have teenage children and we are sympathetic to some sort of curb or some sort of review around the level of advertising”. For his information, there has been “some sort of” review and it is looking at “some sort of” curb. Maybe “some sort of” reading up on the dubious advertising of gambling like this study from Dr Philip Newall of the University of Sterling would help him in “some sort of” way. The budding CEO might also take note that in previous studies of advertising, William Hill are noted as the most “ruthless advertisers” in their betting shop fronts.

Another one of Mr Etches funders got into trouble with the taxman last week as their “luck ran out” on a £71 million tax avoidance scheme. HMRC boss, Jennie Granger, commenting on this said, “Ladbrokes would have been better off just paying the tax but instead they pursued this lengthy legal dispute with HMRC”.

Ladbrokes is involved in a lot of lengthy legal disputes and it is a particular trait of bookmaking companies that they tend to fight lengthy battles they know they can’t win. Just look at FOBTs for example.

In a parting shot to Ladbrokes, HMRC said, “The bookie gambled and lost when the odds of success could not have been lower”. Those words should be heeded by Mr Etches. The public and private criticism he has received for his outbursts are not borne out of vested interest, but genuine, principled concern that he is behaving contrary to the alleged charitable remit of GambleAware.  

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