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It's going to get serious - bookies cannot defy gravity forever!

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling questions the data used by the gambling industry to assess the impact of bookie closures. 

At the recent Association of British Bookmarkers (ABB) AGM, guest speaker John Whittingdale, Conservative MP for Malden, explained that he expects "proposals for significant change" on FOBTs and that bookies should "brace [themselves] for radical measures". This should not be news to anybody other than investors in bookmakers who have believed the bookies’ spin.

It seems that Mr Whittingdale did not have time to explain that if he was still at DCMS and under fellow Conservatives, David Cameron and George Osborne, then FOBTs might still be alright. Mr Cameron had inexplicably put Mr Whittingdale in charge, even after he headed a CMS committee with Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, which recommended increasing the number of FOBTs per betting shop in 2012.

The ABB Chair, Paul Darling QC eloquently defended betting shops saying, "In my view they are community hubs, they're a key part of employment in local communities just as they are a place of vibrancy and an important opportunity to socialize for many customers".  This QC could call a glass full of froth a pint of beer.

When appointed to the ABB, Mr Darling said he wanted to revisit his old South Shields area and check out betting shops there. Local politicians invited him to come and meet and be shown around by them, an event that is yet to hit the news. The founder of CFFG, Derek Webb, states that Mr Darling told him it was over six months before Mr Darling plucked up enough courage to visit a West London betting shop and insert some cash into a FOBT.

Since Mr Darling earned a bar status in Northern Ireland - and as he must know that FOBTs have never been legitimised there - then does he know that ABB members could be engaged in money laundering when legitimising profits obtained from that activity?

Malcolm George is the ABB CEO who claims that betting shops are the safest places to gamble. Mr George says that the public report by the APPG on FOBTs recommending a £2 maximum stake is flawed. This report has been out for over a month but the ABB has yet to produce a line-by-line explanation of the alleged flaws.

At the same time, Mr George is also showing the pages of a secret KPMG report to the odd journalist willing to listen to the bookies. However, CFFG believes that the data found in the KPMG reports for the ABB is very flawed.

Mr George gave details on the original KPMG report at an APPBGG event, the pro-bookie group hosted by Mr Davies, in April 2016. He explained that, based on a 2014 year-end analysis of 70% of betting shops, there would be 1,200 closures from that 70% by 2020, even without FOBT stake reduction, with the one-off £50 regulations having an impact in 2015-2016. This means that across all betting shops there should have been about 1,000 closures already, but where are they?

Here is the small print though in the KPMG modelling. The assumptions made were that if a shop closed there would be no redistribution of revenue beyond 400 meters in an urban setting and one kilometre in a rural setting. A very questionable assumption, but even more questionable is the other assumption that only 50% of revenues would be redistributed.

Where did this 50% get plucked from? Imagine a William Hill closing a few hundred feet from another William Hill and imagine trying to justify that William Hill would lose 50% of the available business. Imagine William Hill explaining to their investors that there is not enough demand for their products to get half their customers to walk a few hundred feet.

It is important to remember that a key reason that the bookies say nothing should be done about FOBTs is that it would be depriving some leisure gamblers of a choice of gambling. Well the addicts, the pathological problem gamblers and the at-risk vulnerable gamblers will be engaged enough to have the time to walk that walk. It is only the infrequent leisure gamblers, who can take it or leave it, who might not make that walk. 

Now contrast this KPMG re-distribution picture with the ABB claims that betting shops are safe, vibrant community hubs. The bookies are spinning both clockwise and counter-clockwise at the same time but even with these dynamics they cannot defy gravity forever.

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