Problems with the Gambling Behaviour and FOBTs

Posted On: 
30th August 2017

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling comments on the latest news.

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Following the Gambling Commission’s publication of “Gambling Behaviour in Great Britain in 2015”, The Guardian picked up on the story with the headline “Number of problem gamblers in UK rises to 400,000.” The article noted that the “report finds more than 2 million people are addicted to gambling or at-risk of developing a problem”.

Most other national publications reported on this, with The Times running with “Problem gambling grows by 50% in three years”, comparing the recently published 2015 Health Survey data with data from the last Health Survey in 2012. The bookies’ trade body, the ABB, cannot have been reading the same research as it claimed the rate of problem gambling is static. Sadly, it was in the Gambling Commission’s interest to provide the ABB with cover, as the alternative would be to admit it was failing to prevent harm to the vulnerable.

Deceptively, the Gambling Commission claims problem gambling to be statistically stable based on comparing the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) in 2010 with the Health Survey in 2015. This is despite a differing methodology and despite NatCen, who conducted both surveys, stating comparisons cannot be drawn between the BGPS and Health Survey.

However, NatCen is clear that the two Health Surveys are “directly comparable”, meaning problem gambling has increased, and which the Gambling Commission ignores. How can DCMS rely on the Gambling Commission for advice when it deliberately misrepresents data?

FOBTs do not take bank holidays and neither does the media coverage. A Daily Mail article “Why gambling addict smashed betting machines” spells out the horrors of FOBT addiction with a human story rather than data. Remember this phenomenon is particular to FOBTs because of their very addictive nature. This should be the only evidence needed to accept that stake reduction from £100 to £2 maximum is undeniably the most effective solution to prevent harm and crime.

Over at The Observer, Victoria Coren Mitchell’s article “Why its time high street betting cleaned up its act” explained that 95% of responses to her previous article on FOBTs were supportive and addressed the objections of the dissenters.

In The Observer business analysis section, an article “Action on betting machines and TV ads is vital, but so is help for addicts” advocated improving treatment. With the bookie-influenced GambleAware in control, this will require a definitive change of policy involving the NHS and Jeremy Hunt who, as Shadow DCMS, used to be critical of FOBTs.

GVC managed to get a few business write-ups about an alleged offer for Ladbrokes, dependent upon the decision of the DCMS review. A genuine offer – or a clever move by GVC to impact the share prices of remote gambling rivals?

The Campaign does not have any inside information, but we forecast a reduction to a maximum FOBT stake of £2 a spin, and declines of around 40% in William Hill to £1.50 and Ladbrokes to £0.75. With Theresa May going on the offensive against “Fat Cats”, trimming the excesses of the offshore remote gambling sector by restricting TV ads would fit that agenda.    

As ever the bookies and their establishment friends are engaged in truth-denial. Consultant Matt Zarb-Cousin wrote in the Independent on this worst aspect of the whole issue – the tobacco tactics of the ABB.

Commenting on the Gambling Commission’s publication of the Health Survey data, Sir Chris Kelly, Chair of the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, claimed that his National Responsible Gambling Strategy should be “pursued with vigour”. Sir, your strategy is not delivering. We suggest you pursue your resignation with vigour!