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At last – the start of the FOBT end game

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

3 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling reflects on a recent Panorama programme on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and news that the Government has backed a DCMS review into FOBTs and gambling advertising on television.

Over the weekend details of a Prime Minister backed DCMS review of FOBTs and TV advertising of gambling were leaked to the Daily Mail.

Commenting to the Sunday People, the minister responsible, Tracey Crouch, said: “I’m thrilled we’ve got to the point where social responsibility is now at the heart of the Government’s programme. We can now get on with looking at these machines properly.”

On Monday the BBC broadcast the Panorama feature, “Why are gambling machines addictive?” which looked at FOBTs and their impact on users.

Wendy Bendel, whose partner, Lee Murphy, committed suicide after his gambling addiction spiralled as a consequence of FOBTs, presented the programme. For Wendy to undertake this challenge in these circumstances is a strong testament to her character.

New research on Panorama showed that there are areas of the brain that react to aspects of FOBT roulette. Audio and visual triggers have an impact, as do near-misses, losses disguised as wins, and false pattern recognition. An experiment in which a recovering gambling addict played an electronic machine for fun with imaginary money in an MRI machine was conducted during the programme. From the subsequent MRI scan, viewers were able to see exactly how the brain changes during FOBT play.

Associated research could have been done in 2011 when arcades and bingo halls agreed to allow NatCen to do machine research in situ. The bookies refused to cooperate and subsequently withdrew the official research funding and commissioning by establishing the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) under Neil Goulden. He was later discovered by the Guardian lobbying to defend FOBTs.

MRI scan research could also have been conducted as part of the RGT 2014 research into FOBTs which David Cameron must have misguidedly thought was the "proper look" he had promised. But instead a simulation was conducted by the brother of the RGT research commissioner. The bookies like to 'keep it in the family'.

The Association of British Bookmakers refused to appear on Panorama, as mentioned in the programme but provided what the Campaign believes are the usual irrelevant and misleading defences.  

They might be starting to realise though that Prime Minister Theresa May is not as compliant as their old chums Cameron and Osborne, who allowed all the evidence of FOBT harm to be ignored. The excuse? The Campaign believes that the unfit-for-purpose Gambling Commission and its adviser the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board were willing to ignore the same evidence.

Normal gamblers are not randomly damaging FOBTs. As recent non-RGT research shows there are links between pathological and problem gambling and increased violence.

It is not a nanny-state measure to require sensible enforcement of sensible regulation of gambling. The concept of a free market should never apply to gambling regulation.

It is not a nanny-state measure to ensure that employees are safe in their workplace, not subject to abuse, threat, sexual harassment and sometimes violence. Staff should not be working alone in the most dangerous commercial premises on the high street.

The bookies currently have a protected monopoly on FOBTs in easy-access premises because they were willing to introduce FOBTs illegally, before they became regulated under the 2005 Gambling Act. The status quo rewards their illegal activity.

The tragic story of Lee, the outstanding contribution by Wendy and the excellent Panorama feature will all make a difference. The Campaign has taken far too long and cost far too much, but there is now the opportunity to prevail.

Thank you Prime Minister for agreeing to this review.

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