Bookies’ warnings to government exposed as false - Gamban
Our gambling laws need to be reviewed in their entirety: so that online gambling stakes and speed of play can be calibrated with the principle of a regulatory pyramid, writes Matt Zarb-Cousin | Credit: PA Images
More than a year since FOBT changes came into force, the Gambling Commission last week published industry statistics that show the impact was nowhere near what the betting industry claimed.
We are only now getting the first tranche of data that shows the impact of the cut in the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2 a spin. Prior to this change, enacted in April 2019, the bookmakers warned of a risk to 4,500 shops and 20,000 jobs.
Their wild estimations were compiled by a secret KPMG report funded by the bookmakers, which was used to lobby government to prevent the reduction to £2 – and then to lobby Treasury to delay the implementation of the measure.
This even drew some attention from the Financial Conduct Authority, who probed the claim that operators were creating a “false market”, given their doomsday projections would disproportionately impact the share price if the government decided on £2.
More than a year since the change came into force, the Gambling Commission last week published industry statistics that show the impact was nowhere near what the betting industry claimed.
Despite bookmakers opening multiple premises on high streets to get around the limit of four FOBTs per shop, only around 1,000 betting shops have closed since the reduction to £2 a spin, and this figure will have been impacted by William Hill’s decision to close 700 shops – a decision most analysts state was an error.
The bookmakers employ 4,000 fewer people since the change, but this has been accelerated by their move to single-staffed premises.
But given the high attrition rate among employees in the sector due to the demands of the work, it is likely that if shops closed then the staff could be redeployed to other premises.
As Clean Up Gambling told the Daily Mail: “This data shows FOBT stake reduction has reduced the volume of losses and resulting harm on the most addictive content on bookies’ machines.
Despite warnings from the sector, there’s been minimal impact on the number of shops and jobs. There is no economic justification to resist stake limits.”
The purpose of limits to stake and speed on machines is to reduce the harm associated with the product.
The regulatory pyramid that underpins the 2005 Gambling Act dictates that the more accessible the machine, the tighter the limits.
While the more restricted the venue, the looser the limits. At £100 a spin in high street betting shops, FOBTs ran entirely contrary to this principle, which helped make the case for reducing the stake to £2 a spin.
But if this principle is applied to online gambling – the most accessible platform – then it is illogical and entirely contrary to the regulatory pyramid to permit unlimited stakes or speed on the very same content that is found on venue-based machines.
This is why our gambling laws need to be reviewed in their entirety: so that online gambling stakes and speed of play can be calibrated with the principle of a regulatory pyramid.
Through harnessing advances in technology we can ensure the amount deposited into gambling accounts is controlled by rigorous affordability checks.
Doing so would truly bring our analogue laws into the digital age.