The Campaign for Fairer Gambling reviews 2016 and efforts to reduce the impact of fixed odds betting terminals on problem gamblers.
In 2013 when betting shops faced a potential clamp down on their “crack cocaine” machines, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) leapt into action launching a petition begging David Cameron and George Osborne to leave their £1.7 billion earning machines alone. Using strong arm tactics with betting shop workers they ran a well-oiled “astroturfing” campaign that saw a sack full of “1 million signatures” dumped at number 10 Downing Street.
If it worked in 2013, let’s do it again in 2016 must have been the clarion call of the ABB’s latest CEO, Malcom George. Problem is, it hasn’t. Unfortunately, for Mr George like many of his recent initiatives, it hasn’t worked. They managed to get just 325,000 signatures this time – down from 675,000 in 2013. That’s 2 out of every 3 punters who signed in 2013 have told the bookmakers to get lost this time.
Rumour is that the ABB’s latest CEO – the third in four years – isn’t a happy chappy. He apparently refused to participate in a Panorama investigation into his members’ FOBT machines. He’s refused to give evidenceat an All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into them describing the hearings as a “kangaroo court” – much to the annoyance of Ministers and MPs. ABB members must be wondering what they are paying him for, especially now that he has overseen such a dramatic fall in support from their very own customers!
As the clock starts ticking on a Government decision that could see FOBTs dealt with once and for all, each day brings more bad news for the ABB.
Wales now looks set to get similar powers to Scotland enabling them to ban FOBTs in all new betting shops. While north of the border, the Scottish aren’t happy with their new devolved powers and are taking things further by reintroducing planning consent for new betting shops. Like the tightening of a noose, bookmakers can now feel the regulatory grip of Government “hangmen” preparing to take away the ground from under them.
In Westminster, as Conservative MP Philip Davies found out last week, it isn’t just opposition MPs who are shouting the hangmen on – more and more senior Tory MPs like Oliver Letwin are joining the baying crowd at the gallows. Mr Davies is now a lost lonely voice on those Conservative green benches.
So, as 2016 ends, the Campaign looks forward to 2017 and the conclusions of the DCMS review. For the failing ABB CEO Malcolm George, 2016 has been his “annus horribilis” and 2017 looks set to get even worse for the bookmakers as they dig deeper into their bunker.