This is a sponsored post by the Association of British Bookmakers, the industry body for high street betting shops.
Last week, the Centre for Social Justice published a report on gaming machines in betting shops entitled Lowering the stakes on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
It is unfortunate that an influential think-tank such as the Centre for Social Justice (CJS) produced a report that includes so much inaccurate and misleading information about gaming machines in betting shops. Arguments for measures to address problem gambling can only be based on the evidence. Any other approach will only result in bad decisions, unintended consequences and will not help address problem gambling.
Had the CSJ considered the numerous official, independently verified third party reports and evidence on gaming machines they would have written a very different report. As such, it is important to put on record the counter-argument based on the evidence. We are, after all, talking about betting shops that employ more people than the rest of the gambling industry combined. If the maximum stake is reduced to £2, then 21,000 betting shop staff will lose their jobs with financial consequences not just for those staff but for the Exchequer, and for sports such as horse racing which will lose hundreds of millions of pounds in income every year.
The CSJ report chose to compare official figures collated by the regulator the Gambling Commission in 2006 with a non-scientific statement on the NHS Choices webpage. Had they compared the Gambling Commission figures from 2006 with the figures today they would have found that the levels of problem gambling in the UK have remained stable at around 0.7 per cent of the UK adult population. Indeed, UK problem gambling levels were around 0.7 per cent before gaming machines were ever introduced to betting shops in 1999. The CSJ would also have found that the evidence shows there is no link between problem gambling and gaming machines in betting shops, as problem gambling is multi-faceted in nature and not linked to any single product. The average problem gambler bets on seven different types of gambling products, and research by NatCen concluded that ‘focusing on one element of gambling alone—such as the reduction of stake size—will not provide a better prediction of problem gambling or decrease the rates of gambling harm.’ The CSJ’s own Breakthrough Britain report in 2007, authored by a renowned professor, also outlined the co-morbid nature of problem gambling and its immense complexities.
The CSJ report also argues that the number of FOBTs ‘is at an all-time high of 34,809’, when the number of FOBTs is decreasing, currently stand at 34,323, as too are the number of betting shops in the UK, which are at their lowest number since 2003. To put the number of FOBTs into context, there are over 310,000 gaming machines in UK venues other than betting shops such as arcades, pubs, service stations and casinos which generate over £1.6 billion in income for these venues.
Betting shops do not target deprived areas as suggested by the report – the reality is that betting shops are located in areas where there is high footfall and a demand for them, with 84 per cent of all shops situated in areas with a high population density. Betting shops cannot open unless a local council has given them planning permission to do so, and councils now have additional powers under Article 4 Directives which can restrict permitted development.
The CSJ unfortunately quote the already-discredited FOBT All Party Parliamentary Group statement that a recommendation for £2 stakes was supported by 93 councils – the reality is that freedom of information requests have shown that there are actually just 41 endorsements of a cut in stakes from councils, 20 personal endorsements from individual councillors and three from licensing committees.
Gaming machines in betting shops are unique in their capacity to take bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds, but they are located in shops which cater solely for people wanting to gamble. While FOBTs accept higher stakes than other gaming machines, the return to player, also described as the margin retained by the operator, is much smaller than all other gaming machines at just 2.7 per cent over time compared to up to 35 per cent on machines in other venues such as arcades.
The criticism of the responsible gambling measures in the 2013 edition of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) code of practice, ignores the fact that the code has been updated several times since then as new and improved responsible gambling measures are introduced.
The voluntary development and introduction by betting shops of a Player Awareness System is a world-first in gambling and an important part of our industry’s wider responsible gambling agenda. Prematurely criticising the new technology that was reviewed during the three month period following its launch to identify best practice is particularly disappointing.
Independent evaluation of other responsible gambling measures, such as a scheme targeted at helping problem gamblers ban themselves from betting shops, the Multi-Operator Self Exclusion Scheme (MOSES), revealed that 83 per cent of participants agree that is has been effective in reducing or stopping their gambling activity and 71 per cent say they have not attempted to use their nominated betting shops since signing up.
The CSJ also misleadingly reported that there has been ‘an increase in the number of calls made to the gambling charity GamCare’ but fails to point out that the proportion of these calls relating to FOBTs has actually fallen from 32 per cent to 23 per cent.
The CSJ claims that FOBTs can drive violence and crime, but don’t cite any evidence. The reality is that all high street shops suffer crime but the CSJ ignore that FOI requests on police call-outs show that there were, for example, 20 times more police call outs to convenience stores than to betting shops.
Quotes are included from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFG) to back up their arguments against FOBTs. It must be noted that the CFG is not a charity but is actually a privately funded company, owned by a Las Vegas-based tycoon strongly linked to the casino industry, and whose spokesperson is Jeremy Corbyn’s former media adviser. The CFG has hypocritically called for tax cuts for the casino industry and argued against any limit on the numbers of casinos in the UK.
Quoting Newham Council is another surprising choice. Sir Robin Wales, the Newham Mayor, lobbied for, and welcomed to his borough, the UK’s first Super Casino. It was also interesting to discover in an edition of Private Eye that Newham receives a dividend from the Super Casino of over £1.5million a year, which increases if the casino’s revenue increases.
And when it comes to young gamblers, betting shops are strictly for over-18s and have a Think21 policy. The Gambling Commission found that those under 18 predominantly gambled on the fruit machines in arcades and on the national lottery.
It is disappointing that the CSJ did not research all the evidence available. We hope that in future, the CSJ reaches out beyond those with their pre-determined views on FOBTs and explore the evidence before reaching their conclusions.