If the bookies can’t even run a self-exclusion scheme, what hope for preventing harm?
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling asks questions about the effectiveness of the Multi-Operator Self Exclusion Scheme (MOSES) operated by bookmakers.
The focus of this week’s 5 Live Investigates was the much-trumpeted Multi-Operator Self-Exclusion Scheme (MOSES) introduced 18 months ago by the bookmakers. If a betting shop customer gets addicted or is experiencing harm, one option they have is to “self-exclude,” which is a self-imposed ban. In the past, if someone wanted to self-exclude from all of the shops in their area, they would have to go to each operator separately, fill out a form, and hand in a passport photo.
The Gambling Commission decided that this process was too cumbersome, so insisted on MOSES – which allows a customer to fill out just one form and hand in one photo if they want to ban themselves from all of the shops in their vicinity.
While this is a much simpler process, unfortunately, it’s a process to sign up for a scheme that simply doesn’t work. Many betting shops have more than 50 or even 100 self-excluded customers, invariably because they’ve got addicted to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
The scheme relies on betting shop staff, often working alone, recognising a customer has self-excluded based on memorising the faces of dozens of people via small, photocopied passport photos kept in a file. So it’s no surprise that when the BBC’s Rob Cave tested the scheme in Grimsby, he was able to gamble in 19 out of the 21 shops he self-excluded from, and on several occasions, rather than being asked to leave, he was offered tea and coffee.
Those that ask to self-exclude are a small subset of the people who get addicted, which are an even smaller subset of the people who experience harm, which amounts to more than two in five of those who use FOBTs. One of the objectives of the Gambling Act is to prevent harm, yet the bookies and the regulator are unable to implement policies that protect people who have already experienced a great deal of harm.
The Senet Group, the bookie-funded PR vehicle that supposedly “promotes responsible gambling standards”, runs the MOSES scheme, and described the BBC investigation as a “wake-up call.” It’s been more than a decade since the Gambling Act came into force, which is a long time to be asleep.
The Gambling Commission is aware of its instrumental role in this failure, which is why it defended MOSES on 5 Live, claiming research commissioned by the industry-funded GambleAware showed that it “helps more than 8 in 10 people who use it control their gambling.”
Yet Iain Corby from GambleAware, who was interviewed shortly after, clarified that the research, carried out by Chrysalis, was only looking at the scheme on its own terms: “The Gambling Commission set very low ambitions for this scheme, and the industry aren’t even meeting those low ambitions. So, I don’t think that scheme is any longer fit for purpose.” Before adding that GambleAware agree the maximum stake on FOBTs needs to come down.
DCMS will be looking closely at this investigation during the consultation period, which closes on the 23rd January. The Minister, Tracey Crouch, said in an interview with House Magazine last week that, as well as reducing the maximum stake on FOBTs, she would be looking at introducing a statutory levy on the gambling industry to pay for research, education and treatment, and might clampdown on “bet in play” and the associated adverts.
The Gambling Commission will be advising the government on that review, and while it has been talking about “using technology to detect problematic play” for the past five years, no progress has been made. On the basis of the betting industry’s reluctance to even impose an effective self-exclusion scheme, they should stop being so naïve to think the bookies would want to stop their customers losing more than they can afford, even if the technology were available to do so. The regulator needs to grow a spine and recommend a reduction to £2 a spin to prevent harm, not go down the path of trying to detect it.