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Investigation of the impact of FOBTs on crime welcomed by campaigners

Investigation of the impact of FOBTs on crime welcomed by campaigners

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling reacts to a new study into the impact of betting shops on crime.

The Economic and Social Research Council hosted two public events in Colchester and Clacton last week, to launch its commissioned research to be conducted by Dr. Neli Demireva from Essex University into the impact of betting shops on crime. Dr. Demireva’sstudy will seek to establish a link between the proliferation of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and crime on the High Street, by carrying out a longitudinal study of three time periods: before the financial crisis, 2007-2010 and 2010-2013.

By taking into account the respective impact of crime on consequential neighbourhood deprivation, the disappearance of small businesses and community organisations and the growth of money lending and pawnbrokers, Dr. Demireva will seek to determine precisely how much FOBTs have impacted pre-existing levels of crime.

Research on gambling tends to be more focused on treatment for gambling problems, with only 49 studies to date that have assessed the gambling and crime relationship. These have been primarily qualitative research, whereas Dr. Demireva will be using a quantitative approach.

Dr. Garry Smith conceptualises the forms of gambling linked to crime as illegal gambling; criminogenic problem gambling; crime in gambling venues and family abuse – the latter being the most difficult to determine. Dr. Demireva highlighted that crime statistics are not necessarily related to the premises. In the US, researchers map the day of a participant who has been involved with an incident, but whilst this might deliver better insights into all crime that is linked to gambling, this is a very expensive methodology.

In presenting the intentions of the research at a public event on November 6th, Dr. Demireva stated that the research methodology adopted would involve acquiring more precise statistics from the Gambling Commission, who currently only provide “averages” and therefore are not 100% accurate. The stats for the number of betting shops or the number of FOBTs, for example, are an average across the year.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling attended the event and was joined by representatives from Newham Council, as well as delegates from the Association of British Bookmakers, Ladbrokes, Coral and William Hill - members of the newly formed “Senet Group” claiming to promote social responsibility in gambling.

Newham Council has recently announced its intention to submit a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act, calling on the Government to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2 a spin. Hannah Clifton, representing Newham, stated that dealing with the number of betting shops has consistently been the priority of their residents, and local police statistics had revealed a police call out relating to betting shops occurred every single day.

Ladbrokes head of retail security spoke to the audience, claiming that there was no relationship between crime and the number of betting shops. They also went on to talk about how the bookmakers had engaged in various schemes that aimed to reduce crime through sharing information with the police. A lively discussion followed as the Campaign highlighted the non-reporting of damage to machines, as betting shop staff are deterred if they do not know the person responsible. Last year, the Guardian reported disclosures by an ex-Ladbrokes executive, who stated that staff were told not to mention the words “children”, “smashed” and “money laundering” in company documents for fear of revealing the scale of underage gambling and criminality in betting shops.

During the discussion, the Campaign also raised the issue of money laundering on FOBTs, and specifically how easy it is for money launderers to override the safeguards by playing roulette with minimal risk. Last year, the Gambling Commission described Ladbrokes' policies to tackle money laundering as inadequate. A particular case was highlighted, where a customer had laundered nearly £900k through Coral's betting shops and the Campaign also questioned Coral as to why the bookmakers are lobbying against inclusion in the EU's 4th Money Laundering Directive, despite the Gambling Commission stating FOBTs present a " high inherent money laundering risk".

Coral’s representative responded by stating that it would be very difficult to track customers in a betting shop environment, which would be necessary in order to meet the criteria outlined in the 4th Money Laundering Directive.

What is inexplicable to the Campaign though, is that on the one hand a representative from William Hill saying, in the context of social responsibility, that staff know all of their customers and can ensure they are protected from harm, but on the other hand the representative from Coral saying it would be impossible to adhere to the Money Laundering Directive because they could not track customers.

The discussion also centred on problem gambling, which can induce crime, and so industry representatives outlined measures announced in their Code of Conduct. But once the Campaign described it in more detail, there was a consensus that these measures were simply window dressing.

Members of the public in attendance offered their support to the Campaign and it was an interesting insight into further research taking place to focus on the issue of FOBTs. We look forward to seeing Dr. Demireva’s research towards the end of next year.

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