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Gambling Commission stalls while FOBTs continue to burn vulnerable gamblers

Gambling Commission stalls while FOBTs continue to burn vulnerable gamblers

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling recently responded to the Gambling Commission’s consultation on the proposed changes to regulations governing licensed premises, including betting shops.

The Campaignhas been informed that the intensifying pressure on the Government to deal with fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) had led to this consultation being brought forward.

Whilst the wide-ranging consultation requested input on a number of significant proposals, many regulations that have been proposed are simply cleaning up the mess that FOBTs have created in licensed betting offices, instead of dealing with the root cause.

Let’s take lone staffing as an example of what the Gambling Commission is consulting on, which is a policy that is now in operation across all four corporate bookmakers. Converting “over the counter” customers to FOBT players was a consequence of the bookmakers orienting their business model towards FOBTs.

This, in turn, facilitated single manning in betting shops, as fewer staff are required to operate FOBTs compared to taking bets over the counter. As a result, more than 6,000 jobs have been lost in the betting industry despite an increase of more than 800 shops, leaving staff increasingly vulnerable as they work alone.

If FOBTs were capped at £2 per spin, FOBT players may instead bet over the counter, which would necessitate more staff in the premises. Whilst we would support the Gambling Commission if it prescribed a minimum of two staff per betting shop, it is important to acknowledge that the situation has arisen primarily because of FOBTs.

Similarly, it is predominantly the younger demographic that is attracted to FOBTs. A report called UK Gambling Data, compiled by JP Morgan using data from William Hill and Ladbrokes, found that FOBTs are most popular among the “16-24” year old demographic. Young people often attempt to enter betting shops and are able to access FOBTs without staff verifying their age. This has arisen through a combination of lone staffing and the lack of human interaction required in order to participate in FOBT gambling.

Very often a child can walk into a betting shop and go straight to a FOBT without even being seen. But what is the Gambling Commission’s solution to this? Instead of acknowledging that FOBTs are too accessible and are in breach of the licensing objectives, as they are harmful to young people, the regulator is consulting on whether or not to move the counter in a betting shop to the entrance of the premises.

Whilst we would support effective measures that prevent underage gambling – such as locking the screen on FOBTs, requiring all players to identify themselves to staff before playing – these problems have been exacerbated by the presence of FOBTs in betting shops because of the demographic this product is attracting.

A betting shop is the most likely place that a person under 18 can play roulette without experiencing age verification checks. The Gambling Commission should acknowledge that high speed casino gambling does not belong in easily accessible high street betting shops; attracting underage gamblers to a venue where age verification is not guaranteed. The high staking capacity on FOBTs has made underage gambling in betting shops an urgent issue, as £100 a spin machines are a source of considerable harm.

The Gambling Commission’s solution to the issues FOBTs are causing is to attempt to deal with the peripheral issues. The regulator continues to resist recommending a reduction in the maximum stake to £2, despite evidence from Australia showing that reducing the maximum stake is the most effective harm minimisation measure and does not impact leisure players who generally play at lower stakes.

The Gambling Commission would prefer to make “limit setting” mandatory on FOBTs (even though a player could just override those limits and continue their play thereafter). The Commission should note Dr. Mark Griffiths’ recent evaluation of the Association of British Bookmakers’ Code of Conduct, which revealed that loss limits were, on average, set at between £350 and £450, showing them to be ineffective.

For limit setting to be effective, membership cards need to be universal, and limits cannot be permitted to be increased without substantial notice. Norway has such a system, and it includes macro “maximum” loss limits, that are as low as £210 a month. But a universal membership card scheme for FOBTs would be costly and would take years to roll out as it requires cross-platform and cross-operator co-operation to be effective. In the meantime the bookmakers would be making more than £1.6bn a year from FOBTs; with a significant proportion of that coming from young and vulnerable gamblers.

In attempting to ensure harm prevention, the Gambling Commission seems to prefer regulating at an individual level rather than regulating specific products. It would prefer to increase the regulatory environment in a betting shop instead of removing the product that has necessitated such regulation. It is time the regulator acknowledged the need for reducing the stake on FOBTs.

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