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By Betting And Gaming Council

FOBT crime and money-laundering - there is a lot of it about!

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling is concerned that not enough is being done to prevent vulnerable problem gamblers from becoming addicted to using Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) ahead of the DCMS Triennial Review consultation.

The past week or so has seen FOBTs covered extensively in the media. Not much attention has been paid though to the recent DCMS Evaluation of the useless £50 threshold measure, whereby staff interaction or a loyalty card is needed to play at FOBT stakes over £50 per spin.

The last Campaign for Fairer Gambling article on PoliticsHome's Central Lobbyexplained that the measure does not help gamblers stay in control but probably just slows down money laundering to ‘washing’ less than £50 a spin.

The most revealing stories relate to betting shop crimes, particularly money laundering by drug dealers. First was The Mirror with " Betting shops fear drug barons are laundering cash in gambling machines". The fears proved to be founded the very next day as we learned of a " Police raid in bookies money laundering investigation in Liverpool" from the Liverpool Echo. The responsible villains, the Deli gang, have been operating for years in Liverpool.

These were followed by The Sun’s “ Worries crack cocaine betting machines could spark anarchy as punters lose £700m in a year” and the Daily Record’s “ Bookies in battle against EU laws which aim to stop criminals laundering dirty cash”. The £700m The Sun refers to is the amount lost annually by vulnerable, at-risk and problem gamblers on FOBTs. It is anarchical if criminal damage to FOBTs is not reported to police so that local authorities are unable to prove the level of crime in betting shops and are prevented from restricting licenses.

Through misleading representations and an ineffective Gambling Commission, the bookies got away with being excluded from both the 2nd and 3rd EU money-laundering Directives. The bookies try to paint themselves as more responsible than casinos by claiming that there are more SARs (Suspicious Activity Reports) from casinos, but the explanation is that casinos are far more diligent than betting shops in SARs compliance. A responsible government will not allow the bookies to escape inclusion in the new 4th EU Directive.

A few days prior, Clare Foges, a former speech writer for the Prime Minister David Cameron, wrote a very well received article in the Times: " Tories must rage against the machine". This prompted another article the following day entitled " Jowell backtracks on her betting bill" based on a letter that Baroness Tessa Jowell wrote to the Times in response. This was also followed by the Daily Mail’s take on the mea culpa: “ We DID get it wrong on crack cocaine gambling machines, admits Tessa Jowell”.

Baroness Jowell absolves herself of FOBT blame by explaining that FOBTs were on probation. She lists all of the powers given to the Gambling Commission to deal with them if evidence of harm arose. Maybe if she had not moved on to the glory of the Olympics, she might have stayed more focused on preventing the gambling harm that her bill enabled.

However, Baroness Jowell is absolutely spot on in exposing the historical inadequacy of the Gambling Commission. She could never have foreseen that the Gambling Commission would obtain research evidence that FOBTs were the most addictive form of gambling, but choose not to disseminate this evidence.

After Baroness Jowell, Gerry Sutcliffe was in charge of gambling. But Mr. Sutcliffe, a bookies friend and now a consultant at Sutcliffe Swales, enjoyed £12,000 annually from the racecourse pitch committee, sorted out the horseracing levy, delayed FOBT research and joined the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) as a trustee. Neil Goulden – of both Coral and the bookies trade body the ABB – was also the RGT chair prior to his resignation.

Both the Daily Mail’s, " Crack cocaine gambling machines make £1,000 a week" and The Mirror’s " Bookies make £34 million a week from crack cocaine gambling machines", indicate how trivial the DCMS £50 threshold measure is.

The FOBT crime angle was focused on in The Mirror’s " Crack cocaine gambling machines blamed for 50% rise in police incidents in betting shops” and in The Sun’s " Record number of punters smash up crack cocaine betting chop terminals".

The 2013 Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes did not consider FOBTs and crime as the Gambling Commission had advised DCMS that the licensing objective of prevention of gambling being associated with crime was not being impacted by FOBTs. If the Gambling Commission actually required all crime in betting shop premises to be reported to police and, along with local authorities, to be notified of all crimes as they take place, then this inaccurate picture of crime-free FOBTs would not have been in the Triennial Review to potentially mislead the government.

Tracey Crouch, the Minister now in charge of gambling at DCMS, has stated that the Triennial Review consultation is now being prepared for 2016. Following the pathetic DCMS Evaluation of the £50 threshold and intense current media interest in FOBTs, the factual validity of the evidence base of this Triennial Review will be subject to rigorous scrutiny.

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