The story of the man behind the Campaign for Fairer Gambling

Posted On: 
6th September 2013

Derek Webb, Founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes about his background in the industry and what led him to set up the Campaign.

My partner Hannah O'Donnell and I founded and fund both the Campaign for Fairer Gambling and the Stop the FOBTs Campaign. Our Stop the FOBTs campaign focuses on our recommendation to reduce the maximum stakes on roulette machines in betting shops – known as B2s or Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – from £100 maximum to £2 per spin, in line with all other British gaming machines. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has a wider remit and also takes positions on broader gambling issues.

My understanding of gambling behavior comes from my many years as one of the most successful poker players of my time and as the inventor of the leading proprietary casino table game, Three Card Poker™. By 2008 Hannah and I were planning our retirement, which rather inevitably led to thinking about activities during retirement and, being in a fortunate financial position, choices of philanthropic activity.

We were able to sell all our casino game assets to a small US public company in 2011. We hold less than 5% each of shares in that company. The sale was for a capital amount based on fixed installments of principal and interest which do not vary with game performance.

We chose to provide political funding to the Lib Dems based in part on an inspirational local candidate whom we came to know. We believe that a coalition is an improvement in British politics and that the Lib Dems have proven their ability to act in government.

We have never obtained any revenue from gambling machines. In 2008, I became aware that some FOBTs were offering the game that I had created, Three Card Poker™, albeit with nominal distinctions. We were concerned that the demographic profile of the FOBT gambler was not as rich as the casino gambler, which the game was designed for. We were also concerned that the speed of the game on FOBTs was several times faster than at a casino table, so gamblers would lose their money several times faster. Even more alarming was that the payback to the player had been reduced on the FOBT version, so the rate of gambler loss would be closer to ten times faster.

We could have gone to the machine suppliers and asked for a small fee per machine per day for use of the exact, official approved version. With a potential of over 20,000 machines and a fee as low as 5p per day per machine, this could have been as much as over £1,000 per day. But we did not do so as we had no interest in trying to generate revenue from a version of the game that we regarded as unfair to gamblers.

With our retirement, we are able to devote far more resources. Our hard cost expenses since the beginning of the Campaign are approaching £500,000. Placing a high value on our personal time in the Campaign, we estimate that equates to an additional soft cost of around a similar amount.

We do not have any possible commercial benefit from our campaigning activity. There is no business model or econometric plan that our opponents could show you to explain otherwise.

We were plaintiffs in a Federal Civil Anti-Trust case claiming that the defendants had abused US competition laws and harmed us and the market. The jury verdict form required the jury to decide on multiple questions including the definition of the market. The jury agreed that we were in competition with other proprietary casino table game vendors, and not in competition with casino slot machines or public domain table games in casinos. The Judge upheld the jury verdict at a subsequent request for Judicial Reversal by the other side. We were awarded tripling of damages for acting on behalf of the US government in enforcing anti-trust laws.

So if we are not in competition with slots machines in casinos, how could we be in competition with FOBTs in betting shops? And since we sold those assets in 2011 anyway, how can anyone continue to attempt to justify the ludicrous "commercial interest" assertions against us?

We will continue the Stop the FOBTs campaign until we prevail. It is inexcusable to allow the continuation of the bookmakers’ protected market monopoly of easy access, high street gambling machines, at stakes in excess of £2 maximum per spin, which is generating over £1.5 billion a year in gross revenue. There is already ample evidence that FOBTs breach the 2005 Gambling Act licensing objectives and our portfolio of support evidence is building daily.

To read a full version of this article go to http://www.stopthefobts.org/the-story-of-the-man-behind-stop-the-fobts-and-the-campaign-for-fairer-gambling/