£2 betting machine limit would put a stop to big losses - Campaign for Fairer Gambling

Posted On: 
27th February 2018

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes about the data used to analyse the impact of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).


The Times reported on new research showing that only a reduction to £2 a spin in the FOBT review would prevent large scale losses of more than £100 a session. The research was carried out by Howard Reed, the respected economist behind Landman Economics, who analysed FOBT data released by the Gambling Commission a year ago.

DCMS had used this data in their document related to the current gambling review, which closed on January 23, the conclusions of which are now expected to be made public by April. DCMS correctly states that loss levels are a proxy for gambling harm and identified losses of £500 or more at the different stake options on FOBTs.

The data allowed the same comparison to be conducted at different amounts, which was the exercise Landman Economics conducted for losses at levels of £200 or more and £100 or more. Maybe DCMS chose £500 because that is the maximum win per spin on FOBTs, but it was an irrational choice. The FOBT demographic includes the vulnerable, young, low-waged and unemployed for whom a loss of £100 or more in a session would be very detrimental.

The data clearly shows that at stakes of up to £20 losses of £100 or over are unacceptably high. Remember though that this data relies on the bookie’s definition of a “session”, which they deem ends when a FOBT has a small idle period when there is no money left on it. This is therefore an under-representation of at-risk and engaged gambler behaviour, as playing more than one FOBT in a shop and playing in more than one shop are typical of this cohort.

It is a serious indictment of the “responsible” gambling establishment that the parties with access to this data, prior to it being made public, were unwilling to conduct this exercise.  This applies to the rebranded GambleAware, which is still under CEO Marc Etches, who has held this position since Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) was formed. It also applies to the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) which is the officially appointed adviser to the Gambling Commission.

With only £8 million or so being raised in 2017 for research, education and treatment, but with this data exercise being a very simple low-cost project it is difficult to see how GambleAware and the RGSB can justify this omission. There is now an inevitable move toward increased funding and a mandatory levy as advocated by both Citizens Advice and ResPublica, the think-tank run by Phillip Blond, the author of Red Tory.

Following the story about the William Hill ex-gratia payment to Dundee Council, it emerged that an employee had engaged in criminal behavior to fund addicted gambling with William Hill. The Gambling Commission applied a recovery of £1.2 million and a fine of £5 million, but this had no impact on William Hill’s share price. A dubious penalty awarded in a football match can make a £5 million difference to a bookie, so a penalty of £5 million for the own goal of profiting from money-laundering is insignificant. As Tom Watson said, the bookies are turning a blind-eye to dirty money.

Nick Rust has an employment history with Ladbrokes and Coral. In those roles he saw nothing wrong with FOBTs. In his current role at the British Horseracing Authority he is not opposed to FOBT stake reduction in principle, but opposed to actions that he claims will hurt horse-racing.

However, Mor Weizer, the CEO of Playtech, a supplier of FOBT game content, stated that restrictions on FOBTs will result in cross-over to Self-Service Betting Terminals (SSBTs).  These SSBTs allow cash gambling on sports, such as horseracing, without making over-the-counter transactions, so support income to horse-racing!

It appears that Mr. Rust is inclined to accept the worst-case scenario from the bookies’ secret KPMG report, whereas more wiser persons at Playtech and at Paddy Power understand that this report is only an Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) lobbying tool, rather than a serious analysis of the impact of a reduction to £2 a spin.

A recent application by Ladbrokes to convert a betting shop to an adult gaming center in Nuneaton shows that shop closures will not be too damaging to the bookies. In their own interest though, they should probably insist that the ABB CEO, Malcolm George, stops referring to “grotty” arcades and ceases making claims regarding superior betting shop safety.