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Public Policy Exchange on FOBTs

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling reports on a recent discussion event on the subject of gambling protections, which their own Matt Zarb-Cousin attended.

Public Policy Exchange (PPE) offer a wide range of events over a variety of subjects and is accessible to all interested parties. It is in marked contrast to the expensive and preposterously titled "World Responsibly Briefing", as reported previously, which did not invite the Campaign to speak. By contrast, the PPE event entitled ‘ Gambling Protections, Controls and the Role of Local Authorities’, did invite Matt Zarb-Cousin of the Campaign to speak during the ‘Review Government Plans for Better Player Protection Measures on FOBTs session.

There are two measures originated by the bookies which try to allay political concerns and which delay appropriate action on FOBT stake reduction - the Code of Conductand the self-exclusion pilots. Both of these have been shown to be failing, as explained in recent Campaign articles on Central Lobby.

The player protection measure originated by DCMS is the requirement for ID to be shown to gamble at FOBT stakes in excess of £50 per spin, which DCMS itself admits is only estimated to have an impact on FOBT profits of £17 million per year, out of a total profit of around £1.6 billion. DCMS want this measure to "bed-in" before assessing its actual impact.

At the PPE event, Matt, as always, spoke eloquently about his personal experiences. In common with many other gamblers, whilst he was addicted to FOBTs, he was not addicted to the other forms of gambling he engaged in. It is astounding that persons that have never personally experienced addiction are willing to claim that problem gambling is player-centric rather than product-centric, in order to argue that no action should be taken on products.

It is wrong for this unproven, player-centric myth to be propagated by persons with commercial or career interests in preventing restrictions on products.  

Representatives from commercial gambling sectors were the dominant attendees at the event, with only two representatives from local authorities and councils. Councilors already know that the Newham Council proposal for a FOBT stake reduction to £2 will be progressing under the Sustainable Communities Act and that DCLG will have to act in good faith in negotiating with the Local Government Association (LGA) on this proposal.

Malcolm George of the Association of British Bookmakers is very affable and has good political connections, but with no understanding of gambling, he is exactly the right man for the job. 

Matthew Hill of the Gambling Commission is due to move on soon, so his views on stake reduction will have less impact.

The Advertising Standards Authority, represented by Miles Lockwood, is placed in a difficult position by the stance of the Commission. The Commission needs to acknowledge that bonus sign-ups with onerous terms and conditions do not fit with a rational interpretation of "fair and open" gambling. The Commission also needs to acknowledge that these types of offers require gambling at unsustainably high levels, which is conducive to harming vulnerable persons. The ASA could then take stronger action, supported by new DCMS legislation if needs be.

Gamcare, represented by Dirk Hansen, is funded by the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) on a non-tendered-for basis. But the success rate of Gamcare is not much better that the success rate of Gamblers Anonymous. It is only through adequate NHS involvement, far greater funding, access to cognitive behavioural therapy and residential treatment that the treatment component can begin to be adequately addressed, as explained in the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ report ' Gambling: the Hidden Addiction'.

Heather Wardle, now of GeoFutures and previously with NatCen, has been appointed by the Commission to the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB). DCMS, which will provide input to DCLG on negotiations with the LGA, relies on the Commission for advice, which in turn relies on RGSB, which the Commission appoints. Both the Commission and the RGSB relied on input from researchers to inform their view on FOBTs.

As the LGA negotiations must be in good faith, all DCMS support evidence must be provided, including researchers’ advice. Unfortunately, the researchers were selected by the industry-funded and controlled RGT on a non-public-tendered basis a few years ago. However it is yet to be determined if this advice will be accessible to the LGA.

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Read the most recent article written by Campaign for Fairer Gambling - DCMS Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes now 'long overdue'