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Speaking out about addictive FOBTs

Graham Jones | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

Labour MP Graham Jones writes about challenges for the bookmaking industry and suggests how to reduce the impact of fixed odds betting terminals.

Last month I wrote an article on Labour Listoutlining the changed political landscape post the general election and where it left the issue of FOBTs, the 34,000 highly addictive gaming machines housed in betting shops up and down the country. My viewpoint attracted an immediate letter from the bookmakers’ trade body, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB).

The temporary Chief Executive of the ABB, Martin Cruddace, wrote “we take the concerns you raised very seriously” and went on to assure me that his members are doing all they can around problem gambling. Well unfortunately Mr Cruddace it simply isn’t enough.

Mr Cruddace tries to “dumb down” the prevalence of FOBT addictive gambling by slotting the small proportion of the population that play the machines into a national population context. Strangely he discounts research showing over a third of FOBT players show signs of problematic gambling because they are “more engaged” in gambling than the whole population!

The reality is that the research, carried out by the Responsible Gambling Trust looked at the very customers who frequent betting shops more than just once a year for the Grand National or FA Cup. The research looked at the core customer base in betting shops that drive Mr Cruddace’s’ members revenue. This is why the research was so revealing for politicians and embarrassing for the bookmakers who have known and tried to hide for the last ten years the harm FOBTs cause.

Mr Cruddace continues with the well-worn and now largely discounted argument that the average stake on FOBTs is just £5.13 and players only lose £7 per session. His predecessor, Dirk Vennix, rolled these lines out time and time again. He is now no longer with the organisation, but the same failed strategy is still in place at the ABB. The RGT research actually points out that the dominance of lower stake, faster spin £2 games (already capped at £2) drags the mean stake down and warns “that there were some extremely high stakes bets affecting this value” which will be struck within B2 £100 per spin content. The same applies to losses per session.

Pointing to my constituency and claiming FOBT stakes and spend are lower than the national average, Mr Cruddace ignores that a constituent in my neighbouring seat Blackburn must have lost much more than the “national average” recently, in order to drive him to smash up every FOBT in the shop. As his solicitor said “the betting industry’s claim that they only wanted people to gamble responsibly was nonsense”.

Defending his members and their recently rolled out Code of Conduct which encompasses voluntary player measures on FOBTs Mr Cruddace again uses flawed statistics claiming that 85% of players have benefitted from time and spend limits.  An evaluation of these measures actually showed that only 1,500 sessions out of 4 million had used limit setting and of those that did, the average loss limit was set between £350 and £450.

Professor Charles Livingstone who reviewed the ABB code and its evaluation states that “ the high rate of continued use after reaching the high mandatory spend warning is a matter for some careful reflection. However, this is not evident.” Similar voluntary measures linked with card based play introduced in Nova Scotia were abandoned last year with the minister responsible saying “ the evidence it's not working is 99.9 per cent of players are actually not using the features”.

The betting industry is now isolated and has lost all credibility with the wider general public and a change of leadership at the ABB has done little to curb the avalanche of bad news hitting them. If Mr Cruddace is serious about tackling the scourge of FOBTs he should stop presenting industry led statistics that are questionable, which cloud the reality of gambling on these highly addictive machines.

Whilst the ABB talk about staff intervening when a customer shows signs of problematic gambling on FOBTs they should be asking their members in particular Ladbrokes, William Hill, Coral and Paddy Power, why are they single manning their shops? A horrific recent serious assault of a female worker at a betting shop was followed last week by another young female cashier being held at knifepoint whilst left on her own running a shop. Single staffing is an unacceptable practise and shows just how irresponsible the bookmakers are being.”

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