Mon, 20 March 2023

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
UK Advertising’s Talent Shortage Needs Government Help Partner content
The Gambling White Paper: A test of the Government's commitment to horse racing Partner content
Press releases

Bookies FOBT pilot not fit for take off

Bookies FOBT pilot not fit for take off

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling questions why the betting industry is still relying on paper-based self-exclusion methods.

BBC Radio Kent recently exposed the failings of a new pilot scheme by bookmakers to allow gamblers to self-exclude from betting shops. The Chatham pilot scheme in Medway, Kent has been operational for around nine months but was found seriously lacking when tested by a BBC journalist.

The scheme enables a gambler completing the self-exclusion process at one shop to be excluded from all other shops in the scheme without having to visit them all separately. The current method of excluding from each operator separately is time consuming and is clearly not working. This is demonstrated by the number of breaches more than quadrupling since 2008 -from 4,000 to 21,000.

A BBC journalist tested the pilot scheme by signing up at one shop. A month later, he visited all of the ten shops in the scheme. He was only prevented from gambling in two out of the ten shops – an 80% failure rate.

The BBC test follows a similar exercise carried out in Glasgow by Scottish journalists, which revealed similarly worrying levels of failure for the bookmakers. With betting shops having by far the highest number of self-exclusions, many will now be sceptical of the bookies’ intended national roll-out of the scheme.

The failings of the self-exclusion pilot promptly follows NatCen's evaluation of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) wonderfully-sounding Code of Conduct for Player Protection and Responsible Gambling. The NatCen evaluation substantiates that this Code is having no statistical impact on player behaviour, as explained in our recent Central Lobby article.

Each of the Code and the scheme are nothing more than PR attempts by the bookies that offer the perception of harm minimisation. Meanwhile, the profits made from this harm are maximized by the continued operation of FOBTs at stakes of up to £100 a spin.

The ABB now has a new CEO, Malcolm George, who questioned the validity of the BBC methodology by claiming that a problem gambler would be more likely to have gambled in all shops and be known to the shop staff, so could have been more easily identified. This sounds fine, but what Mr. George is admitting is that betting shop staff know who problem gamblers are before they ever self-exclude, but are unwilling or incapable of acting to prevent losses by those problem gamblers.

Furthermore, not all FOBT addicts are unemployed and broke, so some may travel outside their locality. Some of them have jobs as travelling salesmen or lorry drivers, for example, and could easily enter a shop that they never gambled in before. Also, some FOBT addicts will have enough cash for seaside holidays or visits to family in other locations, which also gives them exposure to shops they have never gambled in before.

Before being able to get away with attacking the validity of the BBC testing of the scheme, Mr. George should have been questioned on the validity of the scheme itself.

How does anyone know that all sign-ups are genuine, rather than being there to pad out numbers? The bookies have allowed D Duck and M Mouse to provide a mobile phone number and obtain loyalty cards under the farcical “player protection” measure introduced by DCMS, which now requires those wishing to stake more than £50 a spin to sign up to a loyalty card or identify themselves to staff.

How does anyone know that staff are not ignoring breaches in order to increase their shop revenue to maximise their bonuses? The bookies have already encouraged staff non-reporting to policeregarding incidents of criminal damage to FOBTs.

How does anyone know how many unidentified breaches there are? By definition no-one knows.

And the intended national roll-out? Well it's not national, just local schemes – like those offered in Chatham and Glasgow – across the nation. So a non-joined-up scheme based on non-joined-up thinking.

Increased take-up of self-exclusion is an admission of failure in preventing harm anyway, as a gambler is likely to already be at rock-bottom. If the gambler is out of funds already, then the self-exclusion is at no revenue cost to the operator. Even so, there are more sophisticated means for self-exclusion available than the paper-based bookie model.

The National Casino Forum has introduced SENSE™, Self-Enrolment National Self-Exclusion, which is electronically based, enabling a data and photo recognition system which enforces effective, nationalised self-exclusion.

The casino sector just got on quietly introducing SENSE™. No formation of a group to promote responsible gambling standards, such as the Senet Group, no joining that group, no TV or press ads. Put simply, casinos are not engaged in misleading PR exercises.

The casino SENSE scheme makes the bookies scheme look like non-sense. With major bookmakers being leading players in the technology driven remote gambling sector, why is it that they still rely on paper-based self-exclusion methods?

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.

Read the most recent article written by Campaign for Fairer Gambling - DCMS Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes now 'long overdue'