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All on red: Labour MP Graham Jones slams inaction over Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

All on red: Labour MP Graham Jones slams inaction over Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
4 min read

Hyndburn MP Graham Jones tells PoliticsHome why pressure is building on the Government to reform the gambling industry's use of FOBTs during this parliament.    

During the last parliament pressure mounted over the proliferation of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals on UK high streets.

There was criticism from local communities, parliamentarians and even from within the industry itself over the level of problem gambling associated with the machines, the high stakes, and the areas they were targeting.

The growing calls for reform culminated in a statement from David Cameron in which he promised to have a “proper look at the issue”.

This was followed by legislation requiring those wishing to spend more than £50 per spin on FOBTs to seek permission from staff or sign up to a loyalty card.

For many campaigners, this was a woefully inadequate response to a worrying social trend.       
One MP who was disappointed with the level of change was Labour’s Graham Jones, and he suspects that vested interests may be to blame.

“The gambling industry has taken a leaf out of the tobacco industry’s book,” he says.

“They are behaving in a very similar way – denying that their products cause problems when they are proven to have negative consequences. They are bargaining with the Government in a very resistant manner, whilst at the same time protecting their customer base. They have learned all the lessons of the tobacco lobby. The danger is now that we are going to potentially go into a period of attrition.

“That is certainly what happened in the last parliament, with the Government choosing to kick the issue into the long grass and not deal with it. The measures that were brought in in March – the £50 staking threshold on FOBTs – made the situation worse not better. They ended up pushing account-based play more aggressively, as the industry saw an opportunity to introduce loyalty cards.

“The reality is that those loyalty cards have been used to promote gambling and FOBTs and offer incentives to the gamblers who have now provided their personal information. So, it has had the opposite effect – problem gamblers are now receiving enticements and inducements rather than protection.”

Having studied the impact of FOBTs on vulnerable individuals and deprived communities, the MP for Hyndburn’s most recent concern is over employee safety.

Assaults and even murders in betting shops are preventable, he argues, if they are properly staffed, but machine-based gambling is fueling the issue.       

“FOBTs don’t require double staffing. They are not labour intensive therefore they allow bookmakers to cut their staffing costs, which may be good for them but puts at risk the person they are employing - usually young, female, minimum wage employees. Those staffing incidents are associated with the introduction of FOBTs in bookmakers. It is an issue there that unions are really concerned about,” he says.  

Mr Jones hopes that this fresh concern will bring about more decisive change over the next five years.

Many of his parliamentary colleagues from all sides of the House share his desire for reform and this has led to moves to devolve the issue.

Amendments to the Scotland Bill look set to shift powers north of the border and in the rest of the UK councils are calling for the same.   

Top of the agenda for those seeking change is a £2 cap per spin, but for Mr Jones that does not go far enough.

He says: “I have no time for fixed odds betting, because by its very definition you lose before you start and the more you play it the more you are guaranteed to lose. So, this is not a gamble. Bookmakers have been very clever by saying that this is gambling; it’s not gambling, it’s gaming.

“I am pro-gambling but I don’t believe that the customer should be sold a product where he is absolutely guaranteed to lose. So, I would want to see FOBTs removed from the high street.”

Recent research by the Responsible Gambling Trust reinforced Mr Jones’ view, finding that 37% of users were problem gamblers, while 80% of those who bet on average £13.40 per spin or more were problem gamblers.

“The number of FOBTs went down in the first two years of the Coalition Government but in the next two years it rose by 10% and in 2014 the figure was higher than in 2010. So, the number FOBTs is increasing and the revenue from it for the bookmakers is as well - £1.6bn a year. What we have here is clustering in poor areas alongside evidence that these are very addictive,” the Labour MP says.

He is not alone in his conviction, and as the evidence mounts against FOBTs the new Government may conclude that the real risk lies in maintaining the status quo.

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