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The bookies, FOBT clowns and the missing elephant

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling calls on the Government to complete the promised Triennial Review of gambling machine stakes and prizes.


“Gambling Protection, Controls and the Role of Local Authorities” was the title of a recent Public Policy Exchange Symposium held in Westminster. None of the panellists in the morning session mentioned the elephant not in the room – the Sustainable Communities Act (SCA).

Newham Council’s proposal under the SCA, supported by nearly 100 local authorities, is to reduce the maximum stake per spin on FOBTS from £100 to £2. Unlike at similar prior events, at this Symposium, there were no panellists or attendees from local authorities.

Maybe this is because they had no desire to listen to some of the panellists. Or maybe because they are sick of too much talk and not enough action. Central government is now two months behind in the proposed date of a second meeting of three, which should all be completed before summer recess. The government has a duty to try to accommodate the Newham SCA proposal.

At a recent APPBGG “Future of Betting Shops” event, the bookies got a chance to speak to politicians but problem gamblers were barred from attending by Mr Donoghue, who provides the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming Group (APPBGG).

As reported in the Racing Post, Malcolm George of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) had quoted statistics from a “confidential” ABB report by KPMG that has been presented to government, thereby destroying the ABB “confidentiality” excuse that this document should not be made available for public scrutiny.

Not only has Mr Donoghue enjoyed consultancy work for KPMG and the bookies, he also has a history of Salford University bookie-funded training and is currently doing a PhD on the history of gambling. At the Symposium he explained how there has always been moral panic about new forms of gambling throughout history.

The fallacy of his thesis is that now we understand that gambling addiction is a mental health issue and since the 2007 enforcement of the 2005 Gambling Act, there is a licensing objective of prevention of harm to the young and vulnerable.

His comments became more irrational as the day went on with him claiming that action against FOBTs would result in illegal gambling. However, there was no illegal gambling of any consequence prior to the introduction of FOBTs. He then changed that line, claiming that FOBT action would instead convert to mobile, but he failed to recognise that the crossover to FOBTs has been from over-the-counter racing and sports betting and machines in venues such as arcades.

However, the strangest comments came when he spoke about the “unbanked” and his concern that they would become exposed to illegal gambling if FOBTs were restricted. This ignores the fact that by definition the unbanked are already vulnerable.

Philip Davies MP (Chair of the APPBGG) started by declaring himself as a “libertarian”. In trying to understand how to sensibly regulate and enforce gambling laws, the opinion of a libertarian is no more helpful than the opinion of a prohibitionist.

Mr Davies also referred to historical overseas references to the use of the term “crack cocaine of gambling” in an attempt to imply that because FOBTs have also been called this, then somehow FOBTs are not the most addictive form of gambling, contrary to robust independent Harvard research evidence showing that they are. He was quoting from the playbook of the discredited Christopher Snowden of the IEA, as the Campaign has detailed on Central Lobby.

As expected, Mr Davies trotted out all the bookies’ favourite misleading statistics, which have been exposed on Central Lobby and published the same day as the Symposium.

 A few interesting aspects emerged from the discussion, including:

  • A Gala Coral attendee giving Chris Evans MP a glowing reference
  • A GamCare attendee admitting that with under 6,000 clients annually it is only scratching the surface of addiction treatment in light of approximately 500,000 addicts and a further one million at-risk gamblers
  • A Gambling Commission attendee explaining that new “local risk assessments” do not take into consideration crime or violence in premises
  • A PwC attendee voicing the false and biased assumption that all gambling addicts are addicted to any form of gambling, which does bode well for PwC research commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Trust

In the afternoon, Matt Zarb-Cousin of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling spoke about the details of FOBTs within the context of the Symposium agenda. But Mr Davies and Mr Donoghue had already left the building.

And so the circus goes on. When will the Government do its duty under the SCA? Will there ever be the promised but overdue Triennial Review of Gambling Machine Stakes and Prizes? Will the bookies’ clowns continue to assume the audience are children to be tricked?

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