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The bookies FOBT Code gets an F for failure

The bookies FOBT Code gets an F for failure

Derek Webb, Founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling criticises the Code for Responsible Gambling and says official figures show it is not reducing FOBT addiction.

Research carried out by NatCenon the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) Code for Responsible Gambling and Player Protection was finally released by the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) on August 20th. The key finding is that there is no statistical evidence of any impact of the Code, which, as we predicted, substantiates that the Code is failing.

Data analysis was used to look at each of four metrics:

The length of time spent gambling on a machine during a session of play

The amount of money gambled on a machine during the session

The proportion of machine gambling sessions which lasted 30 minutes or more

The proportion of gaming machine gambling sessions in which individuals inserted £250 or more into the machine

The Code incorporated pop-up warnings on FOBTs after each of 30 minutes of gambling or a loss of £250 in a session. It must be understood that the definition of a session used by the bookies and the researchers is uninterrupted use of one FOBT only - it is not a real session of FOBT gambling which may be across multiple FOBTs and across multiple betting shops.

Also, as part of the Code, FOBT gamblers could choose to set their own warning limits on time or loss, in addition to the above prescribed messaging. However, it was known within the first 15 weeks of the launch of the measures that there was minimal take-up of these options. Those who did use them set limits much higher than the prescribed £250. It was obvious then that there was never any possibility of the Code having any statistical impact.

The Campaign explained that the Code would not deliver soon after it was first launched in September 2013 on Central Lobby. The first sign from the bookies that the Code was failing was when they commissioned the author of the Code, Professor Mark Griffiths, to evaluate his own code! The Campaign commissioned the internationally respected independent academic Dr Charles Livingstone to analyse the Griffiths’ evaluation.

Dr Livingstone found that the review: “Appears to be almost unfailingly positive, in some cases in contrast to the material presented.” He went on to say that the evaluation “represents an apparent attempt to demonstrate adherence to responsible gambling practices that lack an evidence base and are generally favoured by the industry for the purpose of achieving political support for continued self-regulation. Such systems are not likely to achieve reductions in harm,” as we explained in this Central Lobby article.

It seems that the bookies and the ABB are in denial regarding the Code failing. The Senet Group, funded by the bookies, endorsed the Code. But the individuals representing the Senet Group have no expertise in or knowledge of gambling behavior. The Senet Group endorsement of the Code demonstrates, in our opinion, that it is just a PR vehicle to assist the bookmakers in protecting FOBTs. This would explain why no other gambling operator from any other sector has backed the Senet Group.

The RGT press releaseaccompanying the publication of the report refers to an extract from the 54 page research document; "... it is premature to conclude that the findings of this evaluation provide final evidence that the ABB code is ineffective or effective". Yet the evaluation provided no findings or evidence to support the idea that the Code is effective. It conclusively reveals that after nine months of the measures there was no statistical impact.

The evaluation was handed to the RGT in May, but has only now been published. Could this delay have been caused by their desire to spin the findings? Bell Pottinger, the PR firm acting for the RGT, explains that the delay in the research publication from May to August was a consequence of giving the ABB time to review it, as the ABB commissioned the research. But if the RGT is independent how can the ABB commission RGT research and exert influence over viewing rights? 

More worryingly, the RGT press release appears to have been drafted on July 13th but not released until August 20th. Is it a coincidence that the Ladbrokes-Coral deal was being resolved during that period? Is it a coincidence that the RGT’s disclosures relating to FOBTs are often in the recess or near the end of a parliamentary session? As we wrote previously, the RGT’s desire for “ greater transparency” is pretty transparent.

The RGT seems to have taken a page out of Sajid Javid MP’s rule book. When in charge at DCMS he was often accused of passing through measures with little due diligence or debate, such as the non-evidence based £50 staking threshold. DCMS claim that this measure needs time to “bed in”.

But as DCMS estimates the financial impact of its mandatory measure was only a reduction of £17 million per year on FOBT profits, there will never be any meaningful statistical evidence of impact, no matter how long the bedding in period is.

Will DCMS fall fowl of the same mistakes as the RGT overview of the NatCen research? Will it imply that a sticking plaster on the cancer could be effective, even if there is no statistical evidence to support?

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Read the most recent article written by Derek Webb, Founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling - World Responsibility Briefing - What the FOBT was that?