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The research, the data, the caveats, the questions

Derek Webb | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

4 min read Partner content

Derek Webb, founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling provides more context to the FOBT fiasco. 

Four years ago, the Campaign met with the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) with Campaign consultants Adrian Parkinson, Matt Zarb-Cousin and myself meeting the then RGT Chair Neil Goulden, the man who also happened to be chair of the bookies’ trade body, the ABB. RGT CEO Marc Etches, who championed Blackpool super-casinos, Jonathan Parke, his then assistant, and independent trustee Liz Barclay were also at the meeting. They informed us that the FOBT data would reveal everything and that there would be no caveats in the research.

Adrian and Matt had joined the Campaign knowing it would not be easy taking on the bookies but with this "no caveats" position, that could not have any foundation, we knew we were also taking on the gambling establishment of the RGT, the Gambling Commission, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) and DCMS.

Adrian and Matt had appeared on Panorama and Dispatches respectively and both investigations indisputably showed a disproportionate level of criminal damage to FOBTs by FOBT gamblers. One of the licensing objectives of FOBTs is that there should be no association between gambling and crime. FOBTs were in breach of this licensing objective, but the establishment closed ranks. It seemed it was not prepared to call this a crime associated with the product.

At a public event where gambling risk was being discussed I raised the subject of the murder of a shop manager and the attempted murder and serious sexual assault of another shop manager, (each by FOBT addicts), and a Gambling Commission employee astoundingly stated that "this was not part of the risk".

The Gambling Commission recently published the FOBT data that was used to evaluate the impact of government regulations which require the customer to identify themselves in order to bet at over £50 per spin.

However, the Gambling Commission did not provide any comment on the data, other than that it could be used to inform the government’s review of stakes and prizes. The data even needed "updating" within just a few days with six data points out of over 1,500 data points identified by asterisks as requiring updating. These apparent updated points all related to the numbers of times a session started at the maximum wager by game type. But the data wasn't "updated”, it was "corrected" which begs the question, why would it possibly need correcting?

Why are each of the RGT (now GambleAware) the RGSB and the Gambling Commission all silent on interpreting the data? And with this volume of data, where is the data on the number of FOBTs damaged?

It seems the bookies and FOBT suppliers won't release the data and the establishment bodies won't demand it. The culture of betting shop violence has been allowed to fester and shops are now being lone-staffed to stay open for FOBT business only, placing employees in danger.

The Gambling Commission’s reaction is to claim that this is a health and safety issue but in a retail environment, each local authority is responsible as there is no national investigative process. Yet the CEO of the bookies’ trade body, Malcolm George, has the temerity to claim that betting shops are the safest places to gamble even though they have the most dangerous form of gambling (FOBTs), more crime and more violence towards staff than any other gambling premises.  

With the DCMS review now firmly underway, Adrian has moved on to run a small business. He says he enjoyed giving the bookies a good kicking. At the same time, Matt who had gone to be a media spokesperson for the Labour Leader Jremy Corbyn has now returned to the Campaign.

The Campaign is already working on a number of stories that will be brought to the public’s attention in the coming weeks and months. There are flaws in the Gambling Commission data that we will also be identifying, as well as the serious flaws in the recently published, industry-funded GambleAware research.

The subject of gambling research is now being investigated by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). It will be interesting to see what conclusions are drawn when the POST briefing note is published, which is anticipated to be before the DCMS review is completed.

But with GambleAware, the RGSB and the Gambling Commission raising caveat after caveat, how can parliamentarians have any faith in the current gambling research system which promised to have no caveats years ago? 

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Read the most recent article written by Derek Webb - Parent company of FOBT supplier loses over $315 million in anti-monopoly lawsuit