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The Prime Minister and his FOBT failings

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes that the Prime Minister's promised review of the impact of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) has not achieved what it set out to and that FOBT numbers in the UK have increased since Labour left office.

“This is a problem, it does need looking at. We have a review underway. Frankly we are clearing up a situation which was put in place under the last government. There are in fact fewer of these machines now than there where when Labour where in office,” said David Cameron in the House of Commons on the 8th January 2014during a heated Prime Ministers’ Questions on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

Last week the Gambling Commission published its 2015 update of industry statistics which showed that since the Prime Minister came to office in 2010 the number of FOBTs has actually risen to record numbers in betting shops – up from 32,832 to 34,552. Over the same period player losses on the machines have increased by almost half a billion a year– another record.

Far from “clearing up a situation which was put in place under the last government”, David Cameron has actually allowed things to get worse, much worse. What is becoming clear is that he isn’t listening to anyone on this issue – even his own MPs.

In that debate Cameron lampooned the Labour gambling spokesperson Clive Efford whose feeble approach to FOBTs undermined Miliband’s attack. The constant call for “empirical evidence” and the “no evidence to support stake reduction” that were and still are the hallmarks of Labour policy, let Cameron off the hook.

But the Gambling Commission statistics show Cameron should be on the ropes over the FOBT issue. The machines now generate over 68% of all losses on gaming machines in the UK, the number of under-age challenges in betting shops is up nearly 400% since he came to power - 544,000 last year, and the number of customers excluding from betting shops has reached a new high at 30,795 - almost double the 2010 figure.

To compound this, the number of people working in betting shops has fallen by over 4,000 as they increasingly leave shop workers to manage premises on their own. Yet even the bleak picture of what is going on across our town centres and high streets painted by the Gambling Commission could be underestimating the reality.

It claims the number of betting shops is falling and refer to regulatory returns provided by the bookmakers showing a slight decline in recent years. It says we have 8,819 betting shops which is just three less than when Cameron came to power.

Yet extensive research carried out by GeoFutures[F13, P16] for the Responsible Gambling Trust, which has been shared with the Gambling Commission, noted 9,350 active betting shopsas of November 2014 and it didn’t source the information from the bookmakers! Geofutures asked the two FOBT suppliers to detail every shop they supplied FOBTs to and was actively trading. So who is right?

The Gambling Commission must prefer not to release information that is detrimental to the bookmaking sector – why else is it not investigating or reporting the estimated 7,000 FOBTs that are attacked each year and the 20% increase in police call outs to betting shops?

Instead, in its latest consultation on crime and gamblingthe Gambling Commission says of these type of incidents: “There may be instances when a customer causes criminal damage to a licensee’s property, or threatens to assault or actually assaults a staff member. Licensees should report these incidents to the proper authorities, but are not required to report them to us, where they are not linked to the first licensing objective”. But isn't the “first licensing objective” preventing the association of crime and gambling?

Cameron may have allowed the bookmakers and their FOBTs to continue to run riot on our high streets, but £100 million of the half a billion in growth under his watch has come in the last 12 months. That’s how much the bookmakers have added to their profits set against their own self-regulation measures.

Measures which were recently found to be ineffectivealongside the governments’ £50 card based play scheme, which the bookmakers are now using as a marketing opportunity to exacerbate player losses.

Nobody at the time knew what Cameron’s review, which was “under way”, actually entailed as Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party wrote in his blog. What actually transpired as a result of the review was the introduction of card based/registered play for stakes over £50.

Despite the government’s claim at the time of introducing this measure so that it would “help players to stay in control”, at a recent meeting between the Gambling Commission and the Campaign there was no mention of that objective when discussing the measure, but a clear statement from them that it would help combat money laundering! Was that the real objective all along?

With Cameron as Prime Minister, despite his backbenchers getting increasingly concerned about FOBTs, revenues from the machines will probably hit £2 billion by the time he hands over to his successor. Maybe that successor will take a different view

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