Prime Minister, this was your 2005 question, but what is your 2016 answer?
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling calls on the Prime Minister to take action on fixed odds betting terminals, the same machines she asked for action against back in 2005.
In 2005, Theresa May, the then Shadow Secretary of State for Family as well as Culture, Media and Sport, asked a Parliamentary question to the then DCMS minister, Richard Caborn:
“What research has the Government undertaken into the impact on public welfare of increasing the number of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals [FOBTs]?”
Caborn, who was one of the ministers about to flag through the legitimisation of the bookmakers’ then illegal FOBTs, responded:
“The Government have not directly commissioned research into FOBTs. An independent report funded by the Association British Bookmakers [ABB] ….. was subject to DCMS commissioned peer review.
The Gambling Commission will undertake prevalence studies into gambling every three years which will enable the Government to scrutinise trends in British gambling habits. The first of these will be published in 2007.”
The peer review was critical of the weightings. The most significant flaw though was that researchers had been steered towards betting shops on Saturday afternoons, when there is a greater number of over-the-counter race and sports bettors, relative to FOBT gamblers, than at any other time of the week. Why would researchers look at over-the-counter gamblers if the focus was supposed to be on FOBTs? Who selected the shops that the researchers visited?
There have only been two prevalence studies - in 2007 and 2010. DCMS has ignored the robust FOBT specific independent secondary research on each of these studies and there has been no trend comparison on this secondary research.
These research conclusions were firstly, that FOBTs are more addictive than any other form of gambling and secondly, that losses from problem gamblers on FOBTs exceed all problem gambler losses from all other licensed bricks-and-mortar gambling activities combined. There was no DCMS peer review commissioned on these secondary studies.
Also there has been no DCMS peer review commissioned on any of the subsequent research conducted by the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT), the body set up under the influence of the bookies and initially chaired by their trade body Chairman Neil Goulden.
The RGT has not and will not consider the study into the “impact on public welfare” that Mrs May asked for in 2005. The RGT will not consider any research that involves “reduction in gambling participation as a proxy for reduction in gambling harm”.
Mr Caborn, who mysteriously capitulated to the bookies and allowed them to have FOBTs despite their illegality, has since disappeared into oblivion following his involvement in the “cash for influence” scandal in 2010.
The opposite trajectory has been enjoyed by Jeremy Hunt, whom the Prime Minister must have high regard for. So as Health Secretary what contribution has Mr Hunt made towards assessing the “impact on public welfare of FOBTs”, as Mrs May wanted in 2005? How about – absolutely none!
But, in 2007, when he was also Shadow DCMS spokesman, Mr Hunt said
”There is clear evidence that Labour has failed to get a grip of problem gambling. With around two million young people at risk of becoming problem gamblers, Labour has created a public health time-bomb which they don’t seem interested in tackling.”
Today, when Mr Hunt has the power to require the NHS to recognise pathological gambling addiction as the mental illness that it is, there is virtually no effective NHS treatment.
Furthermore, under Mr Hunt, there is no NHS attempt to contribute towards the prevention of harm, one of the objectives of the 2005 Gambling Act. Yet “prevention is better than cure” is a key NHS message. He has clearly forgotten what he said!
According to a Number 10 leak there will be a review of FOBTs and it will be completed by December. Will this be announced at the Conservative party Conference? Or will the public health time-bomb tick on relentlessly?
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