An article in the Scottish Herald seems to have ruffled the feathers of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) this month – as the organisation
put pen to paperto question the validity of data provided by the Campaign,
which revealed that Scotland lost almost £160 million on controversial FOBTs throughout 2014.
In total, the Campaign estimated that £158m was lost on FOBTs, of which £61m came from those with gambling issues. On average, Scottish players lost almost £1,700 a year, with punters inserting £613m in cash across the country’s 1,095 betting shops.
Following the story, Hilary Douglas, the ABB’s Campaigns Director, wrote to the Herald to suggest that the figures cited were ‘turnover figures’ and that no accurate numbers are available which show how many people in a particular area are gamblers.
This is incorrect. The Campaign’s estimate of £160m is in fact an estimate of the total losses, which has been derived from Gambling Commission data, operator annual reports and research carried out by the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) –
as was pointed out in our response letter.
The ABB goes on to state that “problem gambling levels in Scotland are low by international standards” – according to the Scottish Health Survey. The letter fails to note that the same Scottish Health Survey stated that as many as 1 in 5 FOBT players might be problem gamblers.
It is interesting that Ms Douglas does not believe Scotland has a particular issue with problem gambling, when Campaign estimates found that Glasgow lost the most amount of money on FOBTs outside of London. In the interests of neutrality – it’s not just the Campaign which believes Glasgow has an issue with problem gambling, either.
In June last year, Glasgow City Council held a
Sounding Board on the impact of FOBTs– hardly the actions of a city which does not have issues with problem gambling. It would seem that the Council is also reluctant to believe the ABB’s claims that “there are no accurate numbers of how many people in a particular area are gamblers.”
In Glasgow City Council’s preface, Cllr Paul Rooney, the City Treasurer, said: “The lack of solid, independent research on the effect of high speed play, large prizes and variable stakes is as startling as the absence of any understanding of how those factors might influence problem gambling is disturbing. In a multi-billion-pound industry that is capable of generating almost endless, detailed data about how its products are being used; that is not good enough.”
In her letter, Ms Douglas states that FOBTs "are not the single cause of problem gambling" but secondary studies on previous British Gambling Prevalence Surveys have shown them to be the most addictive form of gambling, and the activity on which the most is lost by problem and at-risk gamblers - more than several other leading gambling activities combined.
According to the ABB, problem gambling is a complex issue and there is no “silver bullet” for its solution. Problem gambling is absolutely a complex issue – but issues surrounding the addictive nature of FOBTs could undoubtedly become less complex if the ABB was willing to share data on the amounts gambled, lost and inserted into these machines. It is important to note that Ms Douglas offered no clarification or alternative to the Campaign’s estimates in her letter.
The Campaign’s ultimate goal is to reduce the stakes on FOBTs from £100 to £2 – bringing them in line with all other easily-accessible gambling machines. Is this the “silver bullet”? The Campaign has never argued that it is – but it would undoubtedly reduce the amount of harm these machines cause to vulnerable members of society.
The real silver bullet would be complete transparency from the ABB, research that is conducted without the influence of the industry and a frank and honest debate in the Commons about how the government can tackle the dangers of FOBTs.