Action, comment, talk, silence and panic

Posted On: 
12th September 2017

Derek Webb of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling explains the changing dynamics of the FOBT and gambling media debate.

Betting shops on a high street in South London

“Football shirt sponsorship by betting firms faces Labour ban” was the headline of a Guardian article focussed on comments by Shadow DCMS Secretary Tom Watson MP. Mr Watson explains that football has to play its part to tackle the hidden epidemic of gambling addiction. In the same issue, an editorial asked “Why do bookies serve gambling addicts?”

The next day in The Guardian our own Matt Zarb-Cousin wrote “Problem gambling is soaring. Labour is right to pledge radical reform.” commenting on what Tom Watson stated on Newsnight - “There needs to be massive reform. We got a gambling industry that spends many millions of pounds lobbying ministers, journalists, civil servants on the message that they believe in ‘responsible’ gambling … ”

The Radio Hustle with presenter Alexis Conran had Matt with him in the studio talking through FOBTs and answering callers. The bookmakers trade body, the ABB, had been invited but had declined. Why the silence when offered a chance to engage with gambling addicts? Even Philip Davies MP declined. Maybe he was busy being wined and dined again by Ladbrokes?

Alexis, the presenter, understands gambling addiction, through the experience of his father. Alexis expressed how furious he is with the ‘responsible’ strap-line “When the fun stops – Stop”, claiming they do not understand gambling addiction – meaning the bookies and the Senet Group, the paid-for lobbying arm behind the message.  

A Justice for Punters spokesman called in, explaining that the bookies are responsible for staff cuts in shops by steering sports and race bettors to remote gambling and to labour un-intensive FOBTs. This should disqualify them from making job-loss claims to prevent a stake reduction.

Another caller, a consultant physiatrist advised on the lack of adequate NHS involvement and treatment and also talked about the experience of poorer, more vulnerable persons becoming addicted to FOBTs.

The Observer highlighted an LGA report under the headline “Two million families face £50-a-week cut in income” and referenced the problems associated with the roll-out of universal credit. These two influences, if not addressed, will have serious long-term impact on the number of vulnerable persons and the propensity for gambling harm.

Whilst the majority of the national press editorials support the £2 maximum on FOBTs, the only media actively opposing it is the trade press.

The Times summed up the current position under the title “Treasury backs down on fixed-odds betting curbs”. An ‘official’ is quoted though as saying cutting the stake was not “straightforward”. Treasury officials please take note - bending over backwards to believe the bookies is not straight or forward.

A Times leader “Low Risk, High Reward” explained that Theresa May was backing a winner with her support for limiting FOBT stakes.

Another Guardian story “I was told to throw ethics out of the window” gives an account of working for a remote bookmaking and casino operator. One quote is “We could not comprehend how anyone in their right mind would not realise they were being exploited.”

I wonder how this story went down at the World Regulatory Briefing held in London the same day. Sounds like an important event - but it was just a remote gambling talking shop jolly. The subtitle says it all – Responsible Gambling Innovation.

In the promo line-up of attendees under UK Government was one entry - MP for Shipley. This happens to be same Philip Davies, who is opposed to regulation and does not represent the views of the UK government! Another speaker was George Kidd of the Senet Group.

Although Matt is on a brief and well-deserved vacation he did a pre-record for Victoria Derbyshire on BBC2 on the subject of student gambling addiction. An empty chair represented the empty response of the bookies who again chose silence.