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Why hasn’t the Gambling Commission cracked the bookmakers’ code?

Why hasn’t the Gambling Commission cracked the bookmakers’ code?

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling calls on new DCMS Ministers to "get tough" on bookmakers and the Gambling Commission

“Their original Code provided insufficient assurance that they were taking social responsibility, particularly in relation to FOBTs, seriously”. That was the viewof the Gambling Commission and government Ministers in respect of the first set of measures proposed by the bookmakers as part of their “ world leading” Code of Conduct.

A board briefing for the Gambling Commission(GC) presented in March last year, which the campaign has obtained under a Freedom of Information request, has contradicted bookmaker claims that it was “world leading”. Describing the Code as it was published in September 2013 as “composed largely of measures that the industry ought to have been delivering already or which they had already been doing for other reasons” the GC briefing raises serious doubts about the bookmakers’ commitment to responsible gambling and again raises questions about the involvement of academics like Professor Mark Griffiths.

Professor Griffiths, who was involved in the drafting of the measures for the ABB, was quoted at the time as saying:“I am delighted that the ABB has taken such a proactive stance in their efforts to promote responsible gambling and minimise problem gambling.” But neither government ministers nor the Commission appeared to agree with him. Professor Griffiths’ opinion on FOBTs was in contrast to his 2005 stance, when he said: " If I wanted to design a machine that would keep people in addictive behaviour patterns, then I would invent something that you could gamble a lot on again and again. Virtual roulette is designed to do this."

One of the key strands of the Code concerning harm minimisation strategies, centred on staff training for awareness of problem gambling indicators. The ABB hailed this training as enabling staff to “detect the signs of potential problem gambling more quickly”. However the Commission noted that by the time the Code was being rolled out the ABB had “not yet provided a list of what such indicators might be.” The new minimum standard for staff training laid down by the bookmakers was described in the briefing as NOT “going beyond existing principles.” The bookmakers were doing no more than was already laid down under existing licensing conditions.

When it came to self-exclusion and the ABB’s commitment to maintain a central exclusion register, the briefing describes progress toward this as “very limited”. Again progress by the bookmakers to introduce a remote counter facility to prevent FOBT play before age verification has taken place – something the Campaign proposed in a Commission consultation – is described as “limited”. Even the ABB’s claim that they represent around a hundred independent bookmakers is called into question with the Commission concerned that only 25 had signed up to a provision for test purchasing under the Code. This is despite the ABB asserting that they will make “compliance with this Code of Conduct mandatory” for their members.

The bookmakers’ announcement that they would cease advertising FOBTs in their shop windows appeared to be a bold and responsible move at the time. However the Commission brief reveals that the ABB commitment was to cease advertising B2 casino content only, which they had already stopped doing some time ago. The concern has to be, as the Commission noted, that the cessation of FOBT or B3 slots advertising may only be temporary. This is of particular concern, as previously highlighted by the Campaignand recognised by the Commission: “players can move from B3 to B2 slot play through just one press within the B3 game.”

Whilst the bookmakers may have committed to stopping advertising the £100 a spin B2 content in their shop windows, they have not stopped their aggressive in-shop marketing of the machines through regular tournaments and free play activity. In their draft proposals for the Code, the ABB stipulated that demonstration games, tournaments and other free plays would be guaranteed to operate at the same statistical “return to player” percentage as paid game play. Enticing players to try game content that doesn’t function at the same payout rate as paid for games is deceitful. Yet the Commission notes in its brief that this measure has been “omitted from the final version of the ABB Code”.

Again the ABB pledged that if a customer is using their bank card to load money onto machines and it is “outside the normal parameters for that customer” shop staff would be trained to recognise and interact. But the Commission found that this had been “diluted for the final version” with no reference to identifying a customers’ normal parameters.

These conclusions show that the bookmakers, as was the case in 2004 with their previous code of practice, are not serious about dealing with the high levels of problem gambling taking place on FOBTs in their shops. A manipulative industry plus a weak regulator and regulation is bound to be ineffective. This is what we have had since 2007 and it is why FOBTs have not been properly addressed. When will the new DCMS ministers get tough with the bookmakers and the Gambling Commission?

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