Australian Academic criticises Association of British Bookmakers’ Code of Conduct on its anniversary

Posted on December 10, 2014 by admin
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On the anniversary of the Association of British Bookmakers’ (ABB) Code for Responsible Gambling and Player Protection, leading Australian academic, Charles Livingstone, has criticised self-regulation and player protection measures as being of low efficacy.

Introduced at last year’s Responsible Gambling Trust “Harm Minimisation” conference, the voluntary code of conduct was designed to placate public and political pressure over fixed odds betting terminals – the roulette machines in betting shops capable of taking bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds. This year’s conference is taking place today and one year on, there appears to have been no improvement in player protection on FOBTs.

A report published on the Code today by Charles Livingstone, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, described the measures introduced by the ABB as of “low to very low potential efficacy”, however it was described at the time by gambling academic and industry advisor, Professor Mark Griffiths, as “potentially world leading”.

The Code introduced a voluntary form of pre-commitment, where customers can set time and money limits on gambling activity. Livingstone said that in order to limit expenditure it would require “significant modification” to be effective. The Code also requires the removal of ATMs from betting shops, but Livingstone states that this policy is “undermined by the availability of cash or credit from other sources”.

Professor Mark Griffiths was recently commissioned by the ABB to conduct an evaluation of the Code of Conduct, which was presented to Government and the Gambling Commission. This analysis used 15 weeks of data, however Livingstone points out that this data is absent from the evaluation, making it “difficult to determine the reliability of Griffiths’ conclusions and reasoning”.

Livingstone also states that the evaluation should have been “undertaken by independent gambling researchers who did not assist in the design of the Code of Conduct” and “without a track record of funding support from the gambling industry”. He says Griffiths’ review “appears to be almost unfailingly positive, in some cases in contrast to the material presented.”

Griffiths’ evaluation states that only 1,500 sessions out of 4 million by week 15 used limit setting. Of those that did, the average loss limit was set between £350 and £450. Livingstone states that “the high rate of continued use after reaching the high mandatory spend warning is a matter for some careful reflection. However, this is not evident.”

Livingstone’s report also said that Griffiths’ evaluation “represents an apparent attempt to demonstrate adherence to responsible gambling practices that lack an evidence base and are generally favoured by the industry for the purpose of achieving political support for continued self-regulation. Such systems are not likely to achieve reductions in harm.”

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling is calling for the maximum stake on FOBTs to be reduced to £2 per spin. Livingstone states in the report that: “If gambling machines are intended to provide a harmless recreational activity, it is difficult to comprehend why a maximum stake of £100 is necessary.”

A spokesperson for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling said: “This illustrates the problems with industry funded research. The evaluation by Mark Griffiths is not objective and its methodology is flawed. The bookmakers have marked their own homework by commissioning a complicit academic and continue to control the research agenda by funding and running the Responsible Gambling Trust. It is not surprising that the recent research on FOBTs has asked the wrong questions. The Government cannot continue to be so naïve in trusting everything the bookmakers produce as supposed evidence.”

A full report is available to download here.

For further information about the Campaign for Fairer Gambling and its Stop the FOBTs campaign, please visit www.fairergambling.org / www.stopthefobts.org