Government fails to deal with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals on the high street but resists the Select Committee’s call to make them even more available

Written by Professor Jim Orford on .

On January 15th, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published the Government’s response to the July 2012 CMS Select Committee’s report into the implementation of the 2005 Gambling Act. Gambling Watch UK had been appalled by that report’s recommendations regarding Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs, aka high stakes betting machines or B2 gambling machines) despite the growing evidence of the dangerousness of these machines. The report recommended a very significant increase in the accessibility of these machines in high street betting shops (by allowing for more than the current maximum of four FOBTs per shop) and amusement arcades (adult entertainment centres, where they would be permitted for the first time), as well as increasing the number allowed in casinos and allowing a more generous ratio of machines to tables in small casinos (thus making the model of the ‘small casino’ more economically viable). Thankfully, the Government has responded to the recent expressions of concern about FOBTs in the media and in parliament, and has resisted all those recommendations. Gambling Watch UK described those recommendations six months ago as ‘illogical and alarming’ (see our website report ‘Hard FOBT Gambling: Alarming and Illogical Recommendations ...’) and we are pleased to see that the Government seems to agree with us.

However, we would have liked to see Government going further, with proposals, either to ban FOBTs from high street betting shops altogether, or to render them less dangerous by reducing the maximum stakes allowed when playing such machines. Yesterday’s DCMS announcement places a lot of faith in the forthcoming programme of research into machine gambling announced recently by the Responsible Gambling Trust. We have already pointed out, however, that this research is likely to have too great a focus on individual players rather than on the dangerousness of the machines themselves and, furthermore, that action is needed now, rather than in several years time, to prevent more tragedies taking place of the kind we have highlighted (see our website report ‘New Gambling Research Focuses on Irresponsible Players ...’). Announcing his Department’s intentions in Parliament, the Minister said that there was yet no clear evidence that FOBTs were harmful. Gambling Watch UK begs to differ. The evidence of harm is as follows:

1. FOBTs combine a number of features which would lead us to expect them to be particularly dangerous.
Like other gambling machines, which are recognised the world over to be more addictive than most other forms of gambling, FOBTs allow for rapid, continuous play. They are programmed to pay out on a schedule designed to encourage continued play and machines have many features, such as visual displays and sounds, which contribute. Their harmfulness is mitigated to some extent by keeping the maximum allowed stake low (£2 or less for other gambling machines in Britain). FOBTs, unlike all other types of gambling machine, allow for much higher stakes, up to £100. Until such machines appeared in British betting shops a few years ago, such high stake, continuous machine gambling was unknown on British high streets. Everything that is known about gambling and problem gambling should have led us to expect that they would be particularly dangerous. It is rather like making legally available a new drug which combines the chemical properties of several existing drugs known to be addictive. The 2012 report of the CMS Committee’s investigation of the 2005 Gambling Act recognised this when they referred to FOBTs as 'hard gambling'.

2. The 2010 national survey showed a high percentage of FOBT players to have gambling problems and roughly a quarter of all takings from FOBTs to come from people with such problems.
The results of the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey showed, as expected, that a relatively high percentage of those who reported playing FOBTs at any time in the last 12 months answered questions about problems related to their gambling which put them above the internationally recognised threshold for 'problem gambling' (9% compared to, for example, 1% for lotteries, between 2 and 3% for scratchcards and bingo, and 4% for other kinds of gambling machine). For those reporting playing FOBTs at least monthly, problem gambling prevalence rose to 13%. High though those figures are, they underestimate the amount of FOBT gambling which constitutes problem gambling. Secondary analysis of BGPS 2010 data, now published in an academic peer reviewed journal, estimates that approximately 23% of all takings from FOBTs (stakes minus payouts) are contributed by people who are above the problem gambling threshold.

3. People who have developed addictions to FOBTs, and their families, are increasingly making themselves known to treatment agencies and through media and website channels.
Problem gambling is notorious for being one of the most hidden addictions. However, recent attention given to the dangers of FOBTs has encouraged individuals and their family members, despite the stigma still associated with problem gambling, to talk openly about their FOBT addictions – see, for example, the Real Life Stories on the Gambling Watch UK website, or the recent live discussion on BBC Radio 5 Live (9 a.m., Friday, January 11, 2013). At the same time, those organisations which provide services for people with gambling problems and their families, such as GamCare and the National Problem Gambling Clinic, are reporting that large numbers of their clients and patients have been experiencing problems with FOBTs.

4. Allowing forms of gambling such as FOBTs in high street venues is contrary to an important regulatory principle which requires that 'harder' forms of gambling should be confined to less easily accessible venues.
The 2012 report of the CMS Committee’s investigation of the 2005 Gambling Act, although, illogically, it went on to recommend expanding the availability of FOBTs, acknowledged that their presence on the high street was contrary to the regulatory principle, which they referred to as the ‘regulatory pyramid’, whereby the ‘harder’ forms of gambling should be confined to venues, such as casinos, which were less easily accessible to the general public.

5. No proper impact assessment was carried out when FOBTs were introduced.
FOBTs were introduced into British betting shops before the Gambling Commission came into being, at a time when there was much uncertainty about the future of gambling in Britain and when the previous regulatory body, the Gaming Board, was weak. No proper assessment of the impact of FOBTs was carried out. They should not be allowed to continue in their present form on our high streets simply because they are now there.

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Comments (3)

  • Appollos Permalink

    Good article, even if I can not agree in some points :)
    pozycjonowanie stron

    about 1 year ago
  • Bowser Permalink

    Betting shops should never have been allowed gaming machines, but they will never be banned as the government gets 20 percent tax on all profits. Before long hard drugs will be legalised and taxed in the same way,what will society be like then!!!. Who cares as long as the money rolls in to the governments coffers.

    about 8 months ago
  • Chelsea Plumbers Permalink

    Great article. Being a plumber I know many who gamble on these types of machines. They cause only misery in the end. I have seen some close friends spend alot of money chasing their losses and the ability to have such a high stake gives a false sense of being able to claw the losses back.

    The government is not interested, they get more tax the more people spend on them, this is the true reality of the situation. I am delighted to see the Irish government taking this issue very seriously. the UK government has no concern for it's citizens only for generating as much money as possible. I noticed labour stated they would allow local authorities to decide wether they will allow them but it should be law.

    A maximum stake of £1\£2 would help alot, and curb the addiction to the likes of roulette which allows the £100 maximum stake per spin. Perhaps consistent publicity in the media would help bring real change, not the usual empty promises the Uk government is so good at. Anyway I wish you all the best with the campaign and Merry Christmas.

    about 8 months ago

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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