Back in March, the
Welsh Assembly passed a motionwhich called on the National Assembly for Wales to note that “the growth in online gambling and fixed odds betting terminals has turned gambling in the UK into a multi-billion pound industry” and urged the Welsh Government to “engage with the UK Government to discuss the devolution of greater powers over the licensing of gaming machines”.
During the debate, the Assembly Member
Mick Anontiw arguedthat: “The growth of fixed-odds gaming machines in bookies should also concern us. Since the 2005 Gaming Act, betting office gaming machines have increased significantly. The maximum stakes are £100 for a potential £500 prize, and it is possible to bet £100 in 20 seconds. Amongst those engaged in support and counselling services, these machines are described as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling. Of course, the industry is concerned about its reputation and is putting in place codes of conduct and is looking at how to spot potential problem gamblers, but in my view there is a lot more to do.”
One such counselling service in Wales is Beat the Odds, a collaboration between the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation in Australia and a community based recovery centre in Cardiff, called Living Room. They recently held their first conference, “When the Luck Runs Out”, which marked the collaboration.
Wynford Ellis Owen, the Chief Executive of Living Room Cardiff, said: “The conference is a first for Wales and we are a nation with a serious gambling problem. Spending on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham, for example, is on a par with the more populated cities of Bristol, Coventry and Edinburgh. Gambling is a major cause of indebtedness. With betting on FOBTs alone equating to £675 for every Welsh adult each year and more and more debt collectors on the prowl, Beat the Odds is working to find a solution to problem gambling, which is becoming a major problem in Wales. However, we cannot do this alone and being able to collaborate with our Australian cousins is a fantastic way to establish an effective service for people with gambling problems.”
Dr. Phil Townshend, the Head of Gamblers Help Services at the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, told the conference that their Recovery Assistance Programme offers vouchers of up to $2500 for an individual or $3500 to a couple with children to pay for food, clothing, utilities, housing, medical, transport and dependent care. Their theory is that an addict will be unable to concentrate on their treatment if they are worrying about whether they are about to become homeless. Providing such a safety net will no doubt prevent some addicts from deluding themselves into believing gambling is the solution to the problems that gambling has caused.
Treatment services in the UK are chronically underfunded, so such a scheme is not currently in place here. The industry donates just £6 million a year to the Responsible Gambling Trust, which is why
a report published by the Royal College of Psychiatryby Dr. Sanju George and Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, entitled The Hidden Addiction, found current services to be “underdeveloped, geographically ‘patchy’, or simply nonexistent. A treatment response is needed to match the expansion of gambling in Britain. Research indicates that the overall number of adults gambling in Britain is increasing, and the number of adult problem gamblers is also rising with around 450,000 in Britain today”.
The report also expressed “significant concerns” about betting shops “visibly clustering together on the high street” and noted that “fixed-odds betting terminals have been linked with problem gambling”. It concluded: “Touchscreen electronic gaming machines [such as] fixed-odds betting terminals may pose a greater risk of causing problem gambling than other forms of gambling. This has been reported as being partly due to the ability to stake up to £100 on a game that can be played rapidly and repeatedly, and the introduction of more than 33,000 fixed odds betting terminals into betting shops across Britain.”
The NHS currently spends £200 per alcoholic, but only £9.37 is spent per problem gambler by the Responsible Gambling Trust, so Beat the Odds is therefore a very welcome addition to service provision in Wales. It is entirely independent of the gambling industry as it derives its funding from alcohol addiction service CAIS. It would be interesting to see if Mr Osborne says anything to address this unfairness or announces measures to achieve a level playing field on funding in the Budget.
But without an adequate treatment infrastructure in place across the UK, it is crucial that the Government restricts some of the most addictive gambling products. Reducing the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2 a spin would curtail gambling related harm and reduce incidences of gambling addiction, as a recent letter published in The Times – co-signed by faith groups, service providers, charities and academics –