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False smears by the bookmakers show how desperate they’ve become

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

Campaign for Fairer Gambling founder, Derek Webb, shares his thoughts on recent bookmaker tactics.

The FOBT worshipping bookmakers are desperate to prevent appropriate action by DCMS to reduce the maximum stake. Their trade body, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), is in all-out attack mode as they resort to claiming the Labour manifesto plan to reduce maximum stakes to £2 is "bizarre".

They don't want to admit that even back in 2005, after the bookies had managed to avoid action against them for illegally introducing FOBTs, Labour realised that FOBTs could be dangerous to the licensing objectives of the new Gambling Act. That is why the power to reduce the maximum stake from £100 a spin retrospectively was granted to DCMS at that time.

With all the evidence of FOBT harm since then, it would be "bizarre" if Labour, or indeed any political party, did not support that stake reduction. The Conservatives sensibly avoided including a manifesto reference to their intentions on gambling, as the DCMS review is still pending. With ResPublica, the think-tank that is most closely aligned with current Conservative policies, now on board with our objective of a reduction to £2, the ABB panic is at fever pitch.

They have avoided so far attacking the Synod of Bishops of the Church of England and the Royal Society of Public Health who have both already endorsed this. It has been a while since they attacked the 100 local authorities who have also demanded this stake reduction under the Sustainable Communities Act. That could be because the local authorities have been fairly quiet, relying on DCMS to get it right. However, anything other than a reduction to £2 will lead to very loud local authority objections, given the disastrous impact of FOBTs on their communities.

Therefore, the bookies are trying to portray this debate as being simply other gambling sectors against them. But if one of your competitors started offering an illegal product, which was then legitimised (but only on their premises), which took business away from you and caused you to close some premises and lay off some employees, you would surely have legitimate grievances. FOBTs have harmed and continue to harm machine revenues in pubs, clubs and arcades.

Far more serious though is the fact that FOBT addiction is misleadingly explained as "gambling" addiction by the "responsible" gambling establishment, meaning that FOBT-related harm impacts the reputation of gambling generally and all other gambling sectors.

The ABB’s attack on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FOBTs was based upon trivial issues of document presentation that were the responsibility of the secretariat rather than the Parliamentarians in the Group. Nevertheless, the ABB used these trivial issues as an excuse to denigrate the report as a whole. Of course the ABB was not willing to attend and be questioned by the APPG.

However, the ABB did have private meetings with the Treasury to make misleading representations regarding money-laundering. No independent parties were invited to meetings where the Gambling Anti Money Laundering Group (GAMLG), acting for the ABB claimed that betting shops are "proven low-risk" money-laundering venues, despite the Gambling Commission identifying them as high-risk.

Are there compliant officials at the Treasury who are just willing to accept this nonsense from the bookies? Do these officials deny all the evidence that shows that FOBTs are harmful to the economy? Is this why the bookies think they can get away with being so arrogant and disrespectful to anyone who is critical of them?

The latest ABB spin on me is that I am a "casino tycoon". For the record, I have never owned a casino, had any share (or shares) in a casino or been employed by a casino. Whilst I have retained professional service providers and consultants, I have never even employed anyone.

The next ploy the bookies rely on is that I have some FOBT commercial angle. However, a letter from my US intellectual property litigator explains that he drafted a 2011 settlement agreement between myself and a US owned UK FOBT supplier and that no monetary consideration was sought or received, other than a nominal £1. The FOBT supplier agreed to remove a game that I had created which had been used without my permission. I have never had a desire to obtain revenues from FOBTs.

Of course, anyone able to provide contradictory documentary evidence, or make a credible contradictory statement under oath could do so now. In the meantime, I invite the ABB to either “Put Up or Shut Up”.


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