Derek Webb is Founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. This is a sponsored post from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.
On 13th March the Association of British Bookmakers (AAB) sponsored a post on ConservativeHome written by Greg Knight, MD of JenningsBet, entitled, “The Conservative Party is the party of small business. It should not turn its back on us.”
This supposed small business could be experiencing close to £100 million of funds deposited into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), stakes wagered to the value of £500 million and profits of £20 million generated each year on its betting shop roulette machines.
This supposed small business also has a relationship with The Gaming Platform which is an Isle of Man entity for JenningsBet sports book, JenningsBet casino and JenningsBet poker. Mr Knight explained the taxes his company pays, but did not offer any explanation of the taxes avoided through accessing British gamblers from offshore.
Mr Knight also claims that pressure to reduce FOBT stakes to £2 has come from “some very dubious quarters”. He mentions the Hippodrome Casino, JD Wetherspoons and Bacta, (the Amusement Arcade Trade Association) claiming that these entities would benefit commercially from a FOBT stake reduction. However, this could only be true if these entities had suffered over 12 years of commercial harm through FOBTs.
Small businesses are more prominent in the amusement arcade and pub sectors than in bookmaking. Both William Hill and the merged Coral/Ladbrokes are far bigger than the largest UK casino operators. So where is the small business argument?
Whilst mentioning the APPG on FOBTs, Mr Knight also forgets that 93 local authorities are demanding an FOBT stake reduction to £2 under the Sustainable Communities Act and that the Synod of Bishops of the Church of England voted unanimously to support that same stake reduction.
Mr Knight claims that, “Not one problem gambler would be helped with their addiction.” But it is difficult to fathom the arrogance that motivates someone to make such an irrational statement in their personal commercial interests.
FOBTs are more associated with violence than any other form of gambling, but the full impact is hidden by the bookies. Furthermore, the Gambling Commission does not obtain official data on the number of FOBTs damaged and betting shops with FOBT driven lone staffing are putting employees at-risk.
FOBTs were introduced illegally before the bookies were regulated under the 2005 Gambling Act. The gift to reduce the stake was granted to the DCMS minister in the event that there was evidence of FOBT associated harm.
Any conservative who has a social conscience should recognise that there is more than enough evidence to justify a precautionary stake reduction to the same maximum as on machines in bingo halls or arcades.
Surely saying that bookies should continue to enjoy a protected market monopoly of machines with stakes 50 times greater than high street competitors because they were willing to act illegally, would be a message that only very nasty parliamentarians would endorse?