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Gamble Aware Week? – It's Gambling Crime Fact Denial Week!

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes for PoliticsHome calling for betting shop crime and violence to be acknowledged.

Just as the bookmakers were wrapping up their re-run of their “Gamble Aware” week campaign, the Guardian broke a story, “Betting shops odds on favourites to be targeted by robbers, police warn”.

Last year, betting shops accounted for 40% of serious robberies against commercial properties and 70% of those incidents involved a firearm, according to a Flying Squad presentation leaked to the Guardian.  It explained that petty drug dealers are trading up their criminal activities. Could it also be that they start out using FOBTs for proceeds-of-crime legitimisation, but convert to FOBT gambling and then resort to armed robberies to recover their losses? 

Barry Philips, a former London Flying Squad Detective Superintendent and ex Head of Safety and Security at Ladbrokes was quoted as saying, “the industry is putting profits before staff safety”. Mr Philips is an honourable gentleman speaking up on FOBTs and their association with crime and violence, just like his old colleague, Bill Bennett the ex- Health and Safety Manager at Ladbrokes. Both are no longer working for Ladbrokes and are engaged in Employment Tribunal disputes which Campaign founder and funder Derek Webb is proud to be able to assist in financing the litigation for.

During Gamble Aware Week there were two events in Westminster. The first was the launch of the “Only bet what you can afford” poster campaign by the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) with betting shops up and down the country displaying bold yellow posters in their shop windows. This was followed a couple of days later by a drinks reception put on by the All Party Parliamentary Betting and Gaming Group.

This Group recently published a document on the Future of Gambling Seminars. It featured a survey of attendees. Responses included the comment that “too few parliamentarians attended the seminars”. Really? In these demanding political times how could any parliamentarian have time to listen to puff pieces for gambling operators?

The bookie-funded Senet Group alleges it promotes “responsible gambling” with Gamble Aware Week being a regular “responsible gambling initiative”. However, the Senet Group has yet to publish statistics which show any decline in betting shop profits, due to gamblers becoming more “aware” and exhibiting greater control by stopping because the fun has stopped.

Betting shop crime and violence is ignored by the Senet Group, dismissed by the ABB and deferred to local Councils by the Gambling Commission in a classic case of passing the buck. Yet, ABB CEO, Malcolm George, says that betting shops are the “safest places” to gamble. But with Harvard research showing FOBTs are more associated with disordered gambling than any other gambling activity and betting shops increasingly being reported as hotbeds of criminality, how does Mr George reconcile that the most dangerous form of gambling is in the “safest place” to gamble?

In the same week the retiring Chair of the Gambling Commission, Philip Graf, gave a speech at the RSA. Mr Graf explained what a wonderful job the Commission does and how there could be consequences for gambling operators not embracing “social responsibility”.

The history of infractions by bookmakers shows that lessons don’t get learnt and that the pitifully low penalty levels are not significant enough to change their behaviour. Are the bookies so arrogant that they have threatened legal action if the Commission actually does what the Gambling Act requires it to do?

Mr Graf referred to the tripartite arrangement between the Commission, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board and the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT). He admitted this was not “ideal” and that there were “credibility” questions. However, he did not explain that whilst he was Chair there was a tripartite agreement which excluded the Commission, where the strategy, funding and commissioning bodies were separate and independent.

The Campaign understands that essentially the bookie dominated funding body did not like how the research was going, resulting in the resignation of the commissioning body. Effectively, this placed the bookies in control of funding and commissioning through the new merged entity which became the RGT.

The final question fired at the outgoing Chair came from Hannah Clifton, Parliamentary and Public Affairs Manager, (Newham Council) who asked about the need to ensure high stake machine gambling takes place in a properly regulated environment so as not to blight communities. She also highlighted the daily police call-outs to betting shops in Newham. A fluffed response came back saying the calls could be from outside the premises. Fear not Philip, these call-outs originated from within the shop. Maybe the Gambling Commission should have a look at the latest figures published by the Metropolitan Police!

Similarly, there is no reporting required of criminal damage to FOBTs. This allows the fabricated excuse that some call outs to betting shops are not FOBT related. The Commission uses the “evidence is not available” argument when it could have collected the evidence itself!

Mr. Graf was also in evidence denial mode when speaking about FOBT stake reduction. He “thinks” it might not make much difference, at least on its own, explaining that not that many gamblers are betting £100 per spin. But there is over £1,000,000,000 lost annually by gamblers betting in the range from £2 to £100.

The Commission has failed to acknowledge the validity of the overwhelming evidence of FOBT harm and associated crime and violence to staff and is allowing the bookmakers to “splash the cash” on non-evidence based marketing initiatives. How can DCMS continue to claim that it trusts the Commission?

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