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Bookies ban responsible punters who might win whilst FOBT users are allowed to lose everything

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling highlights bookmakers which reject some over the counter bets, but have no such restrictions on FOBT gambling.

A recent Radio 5 live investigation, " Banned from bookies" made the front page of BBC news online and was reported in the Independentand the Sunnewspapers. A few days later, a group of banned gamblers handed in a Charter to the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) head office, with a petitionsupported by over 3,000 signatories which called on the Chair of the ABB to initiate a public inquiry into bet acceptance.

Just imagine going to your local supermarket, going to the checkout counter with the loss-leader wine offer and being told you cannot buy it! The supermarket is banning you because you go for the best deals. Imagine the feelings of confusion, frustration and embarrassment. How insulted would you feel?

Whilst this may never happen in a supermarket, it is sadly becoming more frequent in betting shops and online. The remote bookies have perfect knowledge of the record of each gambler. If an account is not making them enough profit then it is closed or restricted to trivial bet amounts.

Over the counter betting is required to be the primary activity of the betting shop licence. FOBTs, the betting shop machines, have a maximum payoff of £500 per spin. There is no justification for bookmakers refusing anyone a bet on what should be their primary activity of betting, if the payoff will be up to £500 – the same as on their unrestricted FOBTs.   

In contrast and rather stupidly, the bookmakers considered it wise to take bets on an event that had already taken place a number of months ago. Over 150 people had witnessed it and Ladbrokes in particular then questioned why so many people had backed the winner! As the BBC said of their popular Great British Bake Off program - “ It’s a mystery why bookies would take bets on a show recorded in advance. Doing so is ripe for abuse and seems very irresponsible. We’re pressing for information so we can get to the bottom of this.

One of the licensing objectives in the 2005 Gambling Act is that gambling should be "fair and open”. Where is the easy-to-read notice in the betting shop that says: "If we don't like your bet, we won't take it" There isn't one. Regular gamblers continue losing in the hope they might one-day turn into winning gamblers without knowing it is impossible to be a winner, as if they do begin to win their account will be closed or restricted. How can this be "fair and open"?

Bookies say they only want to restrict "professional" gamblers. But even on betting exchanges, where gamblers set their own prices against each other, there are very few horse-race betting winners and they win mainly small amounts. Besides, if bookies suspect bets are from "professionals" then they have the ability to send the money back to the track to reduce the starting price odds. They are in control of the odds, not the punter.

Matthew Hillof the Gambling Commission has postulated that one day there may be no controls over stakes and prizes on gaming machines such as FOBTs. How can this absurd position ever be justified when bookies themselves apply limits on horse race gamblers?

As Greg Wood of the Guardian argued, the real scandal is the bet restriction of a £10 wager on a 6 to 4 favorite down to a £1 wager, to reduce the liability from £15 to £1.50 on a premium race!

The ABB, nor any of its members, did not want to respond to 5 Live’s investigation. Wanda Goldwag of the Senet Group instead made the "commercial decision" excuse for the bookies. She claimed that it was better to pay £2,000 to 1,000 customers than £2 million to one customer.

Where did Ms Goldwag get this misleading nonsense from? Paddy Power. But the bookies never have had anything close to a £2 million payout to an unknown shop gambler taking an early price on the day of a race. Ms Goldwag seems happy to espouse everything the bookmakers tell her – that’s what they call an independent regulator.

It appears to the Campaign that Ms Goldwag & the Senet Group maintain the sham pretense that the bookies are focused on minimising harm to vulnerable persons, rather than maximising their revenue. Even banned horse-race gamblers are invited back into shops to get deals to play on FOBTs.

Sensible "responsible" gambling involves limiting frequency, stakes and selections. That is what the banned and restricted gamblers do. FOBT roulette gambling is irrational as losses are far faster than casino roulette, and it is impossible to win in the long term. Ms Goldwag, despite claiming to be a "responsible" gambling advocate, defends FOBTs and also defends bookies banning sensible gamblers, two diametrically opposed and incompatible positions.

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