No excuse for Government to delay the FOBT stake reduction to £2 - Campaign for Fairer Gambling

Posted On: 
3rd August 2018

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling assesses the shift in gambling from 'over the counter' to online or mobile gambling and the overall reduction in staffing levels within existing shops.

Credit: 
PA

The bookies’ trade body, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) have been peddling their own version of “Project Fear” with regards to betting shop closures after FOBTs are reduced to £2 a spin. But unless the ABB have conducted in-depth analysis on customer behaviour, substantiating the degree to which FOBT revenues at stakes over £2 have migrated from other gambling activities in the first place, then they cannot offer any meaningful assessment of how much cross-over there will be to other in-shop gambling activities.

The ABB relies on a KPMG report to substantiate their claims, which was not designed for this purpose, which is based on ABB assumptions and which has not been made public. There are surplus shops already in the GVC and BetFred estates, following the merger of Ladbrokes and Coral and the new entity’s acquisition by GVC, which also resulted in a disposal of some surplus shops to BetFred.

There is far more likely to be a gradual reduction in betting shop numbers than a sharp reduction on the day the £2 stake is implemented. Any reduction will be welcomed by the LGA and supporting local authorities, as it would be by members of the public generally who regard betting shops as the least favoured premises in the high street, according to YouGov.

Bookmakers have been actively engaged in reducing staffing levels, so that the once unthinkable practice of allowing single staffing is now common practice. There has been a murder and an attempted murder of lone working employees by FOBT gamblers. The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board made a recommendation that shops should not be single staffed. It would be preferable if the Gambling Commission made no single staffing a licensing condition.

Around half of advertisements during the World Cup in the Racing Post by bricks-and-mortar bookmakers were for offers that were only available online or on mobile. This came amidst reports of more installations of self-service betting terminals in shops. This follows on from years of steering over-the-counter gamblers onto FOBTs and shop gamblers onto remote gambling. 

The attrition rate for betting shop employees is reported be around 30% per year, with many stories of job dissatisfaction being reported on sites such as glassdoor. It is doubtful that anyone one currently employed by bookmakers, who wants to stay in that sector, would not have an opportunity to do so. This point is especially valid as shop closures should result in strong increases in over-the-counter business in remaining shops, which would in-turn hopefully lead to less lone working.

There are two FOBT suppliers: Inspired Gaming and Scientific Games. They supply both the box itself and the game content through their UK based intranet servers. They may also offer game content created by other game providers, such as Playtech. Each of the two suppliers has a portfolio of games on FOBTs of around 100 each. Of these around 80 each are games of a B3 or lower category with stakes of £2 or less. There is no need to change any of these games.

Of the B2 games that need to be changed there are two categories, one being the B3/B2 slot hybrids and the more traditional casino game based B2 games. The hybrid games were not envisaged in the 2005 Gambling Act and have essentially been allowed through a backdoor loophole. They can easily be re-added at any subsequent date as B3 only games. 

The bookies argue that B2-only games will not be attractive to gamblers at stakes of £2 or lower. This is indisputable, due to the 20-second spin cycle, which is much slower than B3 games. Again, they can easily be re-designed to offer more appeal to lower stakes gamblers and re-added at a subsequent date.

Therefore, there is no need for any delay to “recalibrate” these games. The bookmakers, when unregulated prior to the 2005 Gambling Act, introduced FOBTs illegally. It would be perverse for government to base policy on accommodating the bookmakers.  

The continued charade that “betting shops are the safest places” and that FOBT gamblers will just “switch to remote” are foolish own goals by the bookies, as they dominate remote gambling themselves. The longer the charade continues, the more certain it is that the remote sector will be subject to increased scrutiny.