The government’s FOBT review is imminent – but bookies were a no-show on Sky News
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling's Matt Zarb-Cousin writes in advance of the government's expected announcement on stake reduction for fixed odds betting terminals.
Earlier this week, Sky News hosted a debate on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. I had the opportunity to put together a short video explaining the issue, and my own experience of gambling addiction, which was shown just before the live debate took place. The video features Howard Reed, of Landman Economics, and Addaction CEO Mike Dixon, an organisation that would be well-placed to provide treatment across the country if adequate funding were in place.
There are as many drug addicts in Britain as there are gambling addicts. Councils are responsible for commissioning drug and alcohol services, the budget for which is around £7 million a year per local authority.
Yet last year the gambling industry donated just £8 million a year to cover research, education and treatment across the whole country. This chronic lack of funding led to Labour announcing that it would introduce a statutory levy similar to the system in place in New Zealand.
Despite the best efforts of Sky News producers, no one from the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) or any of the major betting operators were willing to put anyone up to debate me. Instead they sent a statement. Once the review consultation is published it will be easy to prove how misleading the ABB statement was – unless the ABB asks that its submission remains “confidential”!
It is only a matter of days until the government goes public with the options for a reduction in the maximum stake on FOBTs. Theresa May has already reportedly said the stake must be reduced. In which case, the question is to what level will the government reduce it, rather than will they reduce it or not. So perhaps the bookies haven’t worked out their position yet?
If the options are £100, £25 and £2, this creates a problem for the ABB as one of their members, Paddy Power, has already said the stakes should be reduced to “£10 or less”. If the ABB acknowledge that the Prime Minister is in favour of a reduction, then it might be logical for them to support £25. But this would still create a split with Paddy Power, and it would be an acknowledgement that the maximum stake should be reduced, something they have long argued against. In that scenario, they are trapped either way.
So, it is no surprise the ABB wasn’t keen to debate while they probably still don’t know what their position is. Stepping into their void on Sky News was Chris Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Mr Snowdon argued that online gambling is a bigger problem, and that restrictions on FOBTs will cause addicts to go online where there is less protection.
The Campaign would like to see stakes and prizes for online gambling brought into the next triennial review, but given the forthcoming review deals only with land-based machines and advertising and social responsibility, it is imperative that the government uses the window of opportunity currently presented to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2 a spin.
Problem gamblers lose more on FOBTs than several leading gambling activities combined. 43% of FOBT users are either problem or at-risk gamblers, and if online is divided up by activity – which it should be, as it is not homogenous – then more is lost on FOBTs than any other gambling product. We look forward to the government’s review and, unlike the ABB, we know what we’ll be pushing for. Alongside 93 local authorities, the Royal Society of Public Health, the All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs, the Labour Party, the Lib Dems, ResPublica and the Centre for Social Justice, we’ll be backing a reduction to £2 a spin.