To Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and the MPs with the bookies at your conference
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes to all Labour MPs ahead of the upcoming party conference in Liverpool.
Regardless of the outcome of the leadership election this weekend, sensible Labour MPs need to coalesce around policies that have always been at the core of traditional Labour values. Curbing corporate goliaths and looking out for the welfare and safety of employees and ensuring they are not abused, are just a couple.
Betting shop employees are often in part-time or temporary employment at minimum pay and working unsociable hours. Many of them are young and/or female and they are often working alone.
Nevertheless, the bookies have been advocating their “responsible” gambling measures, which include staff intervention if there appears to be a gambler showing signs of distress. DCMS, when proposing the £50 threshold measure, suggested that this would promote staff interaction. However, when it came to the subsequent evaluation of this measure, there was no evidence that this was happening. As for the interaction, according to some industry whistle-blowers who have contacted the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, some bookies have actually been found to be training staff to show customers how to play two machines at once. Now that’s what you call interaction and two fingers up to government.
The reality is that betting shop staff are not qualified to counsel anyone. Even worse, they place themselves in danger by leaving the safety of the counter area to intervene. They are often subjected to verbal abuse and far more seriously, there has been a murder, an attempted murder and rape, multiple sexual assaults and multiple violent assaults of betting shop staff which have come to light in recent months. Yet the latest line being repeated over and over again by the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) is that “betting shops are the safest place to gamble”.
Another Labour core value should be to support local councils and the sustainable communities they seek to create. There is currently a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act by Newham Council which is supported by more local authorities than any other such proposal. All other proposals re-submitted under the Act have been agreed by Government but so far on this particular proposal, the Government has failed in its legal obligation by not even trying to reach agreement.
An additional core Labour value should also be to demand that regulatory bodies pro-actively enforce legislation and don’t allow parasitic corporations to get away with acting not only illegally but also immorally and unethically. This is especially important as the UK’s not-fit-for-purpose Gambling Commission has never applied a meaningful fine or revoked personal licenses for any of the serious infractions by any corporate bookies in recent years.
When gamblers are heavy losers, it seems as though bookies find it difficult to recognise them as addicts. When gamblers make minimal wagers prior to withdrawing large cash deposits, it seems as though the bookies find it difficult to recognise them as money-launderers. However, when a gambler is shrewd with their bets and smarter than the average punter, the bookies have no problem detecting and barring them.
So what can Labour MPs do in the immediate future? Signing EDM 61, which supports the new APPG on FOBTs under chair Carolyn Harris MP would be a positive move, as would encouraging colleagues to sign it. Supporting any action against FOBTs that might be advocated at conference is a no-brainer.
But how about trying to remove the toxic influence of the bookies over a few Labour MPs. However, this might be difficult considering being wined and dined at Party Conference by the bookies may be in some Labour MPs’ diaries already.
If you are one such MP, when enjoying your fine wining and dining, spare a thought for the betting shop staff working alone that night, the FOBT player who has just blown a month’s wages in ten minutes and those communities blighted by betting shops that your councillors are fighting to improve.
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