The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has welcomed the Government’s rejection of the select committee’s recommendation to ease restrictions on FOBTs and the Government’s inclusion of FOBTs in the upcoming Triennial Review of stakes and prizes. However, it calls for the Gambling Commission to take action by temporarily restricting new licence applications and curbing bookmakers advertising of the gaming machines.
Based on the three licensing objectives of the Gambling Act 2005*, the Government’s pending review of gaming machines and the recently announced research commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Trust, the Campaign believe it would be prudent for the Gambling Commission to temporarily amend the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) in three ways:
Firstly, prevent new Licenced Betting Offices from opening by changing the Commission’s interpretation of the primary use aspect, so that further betting licences are not granted on the basis of FOBT based gaming income, but instead what should be primary activity – over the counter business. Preventing the opening of pure machine driven shops should be a priority.
Secondly, reduce opening hours of betting shops by bringing forward closing time to coincide with the last UK live race, rather than the current option of using overseas live racing.
Thirdly, halt the aggressive marketing tactics used to entice new players on to FOBTs, such as free play offers, tournaments and “how to play” sessions.
The Campaign believes these moves would limit the potential damage of FOBTs until Government policy has been decided.
Derek Webb, founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “We are very concerned that the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) has too much influence over Government gambling policy. If anyone raises questions about FOBTs and problem gambling, the Government simply echoes the ABB statement that they must produce supporting evidence. Conversely, the Government has not yet required the ABB to produce supporting evidence of ABB claims that there is an economic benefit of FOBTs.”
According to GamCare, the international research shows the socio-economic cost of a problem gambler to be over £8,000 per year. So an 18 year-old FOBT addict could have a possible lifetime socio-economic cost of around £500,000.
“We are also disappointed that Hugh Robertson and Maria Miller, the DCMS ministers who hold responsibility for placing restrictions on FOBTs have shirked this obligation and missed the opportunity to act. It’s a real shame that Hugh Robertson, by his own admission, did not have confidence to rely on his own “common sense” and use the precautionary principle to place sensible restrictions on FOBTs.”
The Campaign believes that due to the Triennial Review methodology, FOBT evidence will be delayed by the Responsible Gambling Trust’s research and it could be another 18 months or more before decisions can be made based on its findings. With a general election pending by May 2015, the current Government will probably not take any action on FOBTs, regardless of the consultation responses and research conclusions.
Mr Webb, added: “We understand the Government’s acknowledgement of the economic arguments, but it seems as though the Government is automatically taking the unfounded view that there is an economic benefit to FOBT gambling. The Government has failed to commission any independent research to evaluate this theoretical economic benefit of FOBT gambling, or even the socio-economic cost of FOBT problem gambling.
“We will be submitting our considered response to the consultation in due course. In the interim, we look to the Gambling Commission to implement our recommended LCCP changes at the earliest opportunity.”
*(a) preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime,
(b)ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and
(c)protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.