The FOBT debate - it reduces to this!

Posted On: 
24th February 2015

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling is calling on MPs to support an Early Day Motion on fixed odds betting terminal stake thresholds and is seeking a parliamentary debate on this subject.

Gambling

Coincidentally, as the Gambling Commission issued updated Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice, DCMS also finally released its Statuary Instrument (SI) on the £50 FOBT threshold in the first week of February.
Early Day Motion EDM 782has been tabled by John Leech MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport, which calls for the SI to be annulled. If this is successful, there will be a debate in both Houses on the issue.

The Campaign encourages all MPs to support any EDM that helps to force a debate on FOBTs in the Commons. It is worth noting that David Cameron said he would take a "proper look" at FOBTs and Helen Grant MP, the gambling Minister at DCMS, said she would wait for the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) research before making a decision on the maximum stake.

Instead though, the DCMS brought forward a useless proposal to cap the stakes at £50 unless permission from staff is sought to gamble up to £100 a spin. This was brought forward in the April recess in 2014 to enable the Government to avoid considering the implications of the RGT research until after the General Election.
With the majority of the electorate wanting FOBT stake restrictions, DCMS policy is totally out-of-touch. No wonder they want to delay any decision on the maximum stake and have tried to avoid a Commons debate.

The RGT research was industry funded and focused on how players gamble on FOBTs rather than whether FOBTs induce or exacerbate problem gambling, which was a serious flaw. But it did reveal that
37% of respondents experienced problems with machine gambling, and that higher stakes do impair decision-making ability.

The Campaign wrote to Marc Etches of the RGT and David Excell of Featurespace, which was commissioned to do part of the research. Mr. Excell had stated that a "£2 stake limit was ineffective", despite Featurespace not testing the impact of reducing the stake to £2 a spin. The Campaign wrote and requested a citation in their research that might back up this claim. The RGT did not provide any, but stated that the researchers are entitled to hold their own "political opinions".

Featurespace did not even attempt to provide an answer to justify the claim. The Campaign believes that Featurespace stand to benefit commercially from maintaining the maximum stake at £100 a spin, as it has been funded by the RGT to develop a “harm minimsation” product that attempts to discern problem gambling from FOBT play data. However, the efficacy of this product is very poor. Featurespace therefore cannot have any credibility and as such their contribution to the RGT research should be fully discounted.

There has already been an unfortunate incident whereby Lord Gardiner, representing the Government in the Lords, made a statement which
was incorrectly attributed and was later clarified. He
said that the RGT had said “reducing the stake to £2 would be overtly naïve and massively premature”, when in reality this was an RGT researcher expressing a personal opinion in the bookmaker trade press! Since this statement has been made, the RGT has attempted to distance itself from
Lord Gardiner’s comments– attesting that the RGT “
">does not have a view on the appropriate stake size for Category B2 gaming machines.”

The Campaign believes it is very misleading to imply that because stake reduction is not a “silver bullet” it should automatically be rejected, as it would certainly reduce the harm the product causes. Of course it would not eliminate problem gambling, but this is a straw man. Problem gambling is a serious mental health issue on parity with other addictions. Health care professionals are not in the habit of throwing away potential helpful elements. It is very irresponsible of DCMS and the gambling establishment to try to downplay the potential positive impact of stake reduction.

The licensing objective in the 2005 Gambling Act is the prevention of harm to young and vulnerable persons. There is unlikely to ever be complete harm prevention, but there can easily be harm reduction in striving towards this objective.

The current estimate of the quantity of at-risk and problem gambler FOBT harm is £636 million per year. This could well to be an under-estimate as it was based on the BGPS secondary research estimates from 2010 data obtained from landline and household contacts. With stakes over £2 still accounting for well over 70% of FOBT revenue, there is over £1 billion per year in gross revenue from that source, of which the Campaign estimates over £500 million per year is from vulnerable persons. This is a rate of harm to vulnerable persons of around £1.5 million per day.

Everyone knows that there is no evidence that a stake reduction would not result in a decrease in the quantity of harm to vulnerable persons. It is the Campaign’s opinion that the best way to obtain the best evidence is to reduce the stake in line with the precautionary principle, and to assess the impact.