A recent article from the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), published on
Central Lobby, attempted to articulate the “progress” the industry has made to promote responsible gambling.
It is important to note from the outset that the notion of responsible gambling is a construct that propagates the notion that gambling addiction, or gambling related harm, is centred on a player’s loss of control alone - rather than certain gambling products or the environment in which they are offered.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – machines on which it is possible to stake up to £100 a spin – are, in the Campaign’s opinion, neither conducive to responsible gambling nor reflective of a responsible industry.
But, in order to delay what we believe to be an inevitable reduction in the maximum stake, the ABB has introduced a number of sticking plasters. It is our view that none of these measures go to the root of the problem and that these claims risk being misleading.
The ABB makes much of its Think 21 policy, but having this policy in place and giving staff the means to implement it effectively are two very separate things. The first obstacle to this lies in single manning. This practice not only puts staff at risk in terms of their security, but it makes it very difficult for them to prevent underage gambling.
What’s more, the Gambling Commission does not conduct test purchasing on major operators. Instead, major operators commission their own test purchasing, with the results shared with the regulator. Whilst operators should be encouraged to commission test purchasing to ensure ongoing compliance is maintained, these results alone should not be relied upon.
The ABB also refers to its Code of Conduct, claiming that it is “the first time anywhere in the world” that players have the ability to set limits on the amount of time they play on FOBTs and the amount of money they spend.
This is not true. In Norway, for example, daily, weekly and monthly losses are capped, and a universal card-based system means player-set limits are properly enforceable.
Limit-setting is only effective if access to FOBTs is card-based and such a scheme is universal across all operators, which is not the case at present. Therefore, players are not “frozen out” of FOBTs if they reach their limits, they can simply continue playing. Issues in the Code of Conduct were highlighted by Professor
Charles Livingstone, who said it would require “significant modification” to be effective.
Selective data from Professor Mark Griffiths’ evaluation of the Code of Conduct, commissioned by the ABB, is cited as evidence that its measures are working. The ABB claims: “85% of players who set a limit walk away when that limit is reached”.
What the ABB does not say is that limits were only set in 1,500 sessions out of four million. Those that did set a spend limit set one at, on average, between £350 and £450 – much more than the average player can afford to lose.
Self-exclusion, a process in which customers which have developed a problem with gambling ban themselves from betting shops, is an important policy and has the potential to assist in an addict’s recovery.
However, the ABB fails to take into consideration two important points. Firstly, the reason for most – if not all – self exclusions is the harm incurred through losses on FOBTs that the customer could not afford. Capping the maximum stake at £2 a spin would reduce the potential for gambling-related harm and lead to the removal of the addictive roulette and casino content. Fewer people would be banning themselves from betting shops if FOBTs were capped at £2 a spin.
Secondly, whilst the ABB acknowledges that the “paper based” system – where a customer takes a passport photo into a shop so staff can scan it and send it to other shops – is outdated, its move towards a “digital” system rather misses the point.
The system in its current form is, of course, unworkable. Staff cannot be expected to memorise so many names and faces – and this was recently compounded by the ABB’s introduction of a multi-operator system in Chatham.
Whilst sharing images digitally makes sense, it will still require staff – many of whom are working alone – to constantly monitor a screen with dozens of names and faces on it. They are also expected to spot signs of problem gambling and carry out their actual job of taking bets and running the shop.
The ABB seems to be shifting the blame for gambling harm onto the individual, and the burden for preventing and dealing with it onto their members’ staff.
The ABB does not look likely to concede what is now obvious to politicians and other parts of the industry – including the
British Amusement and Catering Trade Association– that the £100 staking capacity on FOBTs is the primary cause of gambling related harm, and a stake reduction to £2 a spin, as
advocated by Scottish Labour, the
Boris Johnson, is the single most effective measure for limiting this harm.