In the recent House of Lords debate on FOBTs the government was on the back foot trying to defend the indefensible: the continued £100 maximum stake per spin. Sensible commentary and questions were posed by Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Strasburger of the Lib Dems and Lord Dubs, Lord Lipsey and Lord Collins of Highbury for Labour.
The good Lord appearing on behalf of the government was Conservative Peer Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. He correctly implied that there was ample opportunity for the previous government to do something about FOBTs before 2010. However, Labour did not have access to all the evidence that has been amassed since 2010. With the Tory resistance to act sensibly and embrace the good governance precautionary principle to reduce the FOBT maximum stake, the Campaign believes that the Tories have now forfeited the right to blame Labour for FOBTs.
Lord Bourne described a "suite of gambling controls" which actually added up to two new measures. Firstly, a return to full planning consent for betting shops, which 93 local authorities regard as totally inadequate. Under the Sustainable Communities Act, led by Newham, these authorities now recognize the ultimate retrospective solution and have called for stakes to be reduced to £2 per spin.
The second is a requirement to provide identification or a mobile number to access stakes of £50 or more. This means that FOBTs still remain on our high streets at £100 per spin. No evidence has been presented explaining how this measure will have any impact on FOBT at-risk and problem gambler behaviour.
Lord Bourne quoted the DCMS Sectary of State, Sajid Javid when he said: "We will review the impact of these measures - or have committed to do so - in 2016 to see how effective they have been." No explanation of the review methodology was given. But then the review methodology leading to the measures in the first place is yet to be disclosed.
Lord Bourne repeated the mistake of Lord Gardiner of Kimble when he
incorrectly implied that the RGT advised stake reduction was not the answer. Could it be that
correspondence from the Campaignforced the RGT into having to explain it was not their quote, meaning that Lord Gardiner had "misspoke" to the House? Lord Bourne stated that "...other countries are looking to the UK as a pioneer in reducing gambling-related harm". This is part of the RGT promotional text designed to give its research an elevated level of importance. It is the Campaign’s opinion that this has no basis in fact.
"Technology alone cannot diagnose someone as a problem gambler"is the title of an article on the Playscan website. Playscan has been providing its technology to numerous Scandinavian, North American and European gaming operators for nearly a decade. The question it asks is: "Is the UK gambling market reinventing the wheel in doing this [the RGT research]?"
Lord Bourne threw in a typical pro-status-quo quote "...problem gamblers ... represent under 1% of our adult population", which is of course totally irrelevant to the FOBT debate. He also did not recognize that RGT research showed that 37% FOBT gamblers have problems. Would he recognize the Gambling Commission summary of the publically funded National Health Survey gambling statistics, showing that 22% of FOBT gamblers are vulnerable, at-risk or problem gamblers? The head-of-household contact methodology of the survey is likely to result in these being under estimates.
Lord Bourne also referred to the Gambling Commission, claiming it is "neutral" and that it "reviewed the RGT research". Well the Gambling Commission has not yet, to the best of Campaign knowledge, published any review of any RGT research. Like many other regulators the Commission is never likely to accept the full degree to which the licensing objectives are being breached. The Campaign believes that a true insight would reveal how inadequate Commission performance has been, and that it is certainly not "neutral" in wanting to protect itself.
The good Lord mentioned the bookmaker Code of Conduct, which has now had a year to "bed in". No mention of either a Commission "review" of the Code or DCMS "seeing how effective it has been". However the only critique, which coincidentally was carried out by the same Professor that advised the bookmakers on the Code,
has come in for scathing criticism.
In just a few minutes, Lord Bourne has provided every reason for Labour and Lib Dem Lords to contact their colleagues in the "other place" to move for a Commons debate. With Ed Miliband now the primary opponent to the Statutory Instrument introduction of the £50 FOBT ID threshold through EDM 782, there is every chance that DCMS and this ineffective measure will soon be fully exposed.