An old friend of mine wrote in a letter to Gordon Brown in 2008 that “Betting shops have now become the target of choice for both organised armed gangs and localised anti-social behaviour. The introduction of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals has seen a rise in problem gambling which manifests itself in physical attacks on betting shop staff”.” That old friend was Ian McCartney, former Member of Parliament for Makerfield and a Cabinet Minister. He was proposing, along with betting shop union Communities, to get the national bookmakers to provide better working conditions and protection for their shop workers. The cause of the decline in their conditions of work and the increase in violence toward shop staff was pinpointed in his letter as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.The top objective among Ian’s proposals was an end to lone staffing.
Fast forward five years and in recent weeks we hear of the murder of a Ladbrokes Manager, Andrew Iacouva – left for dead and not discovered for over an hour because he was lone staffing.
Panorama last year showed levels of violence in betting shops that where truly shocking. Windows smashed; machines attacked and shop workers being verbally abused. They visited 39 shops during under cover filming and witnessed 23 acts of violence and anti-social behaviour.
Last year the Guardian showed the lack of responsibility being shown by the national bookmakers when in this article they brought to the fore how William Hill were telling staff not to report incidents of crime to the Police. In their memo they said “this was to reduce the number of reports to Police.” I know other companies, who may not have put pen to paper on this issue, but they are implementing a policy of non-reporting of crime. Because they know there is a serious issue; Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are perpetuating a level of crime and disorder in and around betting shops never before seen.
Councils, MPs and Local Authority officials are all now reporting increasing problems emanating from betting shops, but the bookmakers are so desperate to protect the £1.4 billion of profit they make, they will go to any lengths to suppress any threats to the most addictive gambling product in the UK.
FOBTs have changed betting shops; most are no longer community hubs. Instead they have transformed into hard core gaming centres with their former core business now ancillary to FOBTs.
Expecting shop staff to work extended periods handling large quantities of cash, dealing with customers, ensuring those under 18 do not enter the premises, managing aggressive FOBT players who have lost more than they can afford and maintain the three licensing objectives on their own is totally unacceptable and has to stop. It is not just endangering the lives of my former colleagues, it is socially irresponsible.
In 2008 Ian McCartney told of one betting shop worker who committed suicide as a result of threats and intimidation in his shop. In 2013 we hear of a manager’s murder and earlier this month a FOBT player was jailed for life in Dalkeith for a vicious attack on betting shop staff after he suffered heavy losses on what is the most addictive gambling product in the UK.
The bookmakers aren’t getting the message. The root of the industry’s problems lie with FOBTs and we will continue to campaign for their restriction.
David Lammy MP has this week submitted an Early Day Motion calling for improvements to the working conditions of betting shop staff. This motion is gaining cross party support, but like attempts back in 2008, will the bookmaking sector listen and act? In 2008 Ian noted that the bookmakers “have politely refused to cooperate; some have demonstrated outright hostility”.
I believe the bookmaking sector will react in much the same way and attempt to divert attention away from lone staffing with more sticking plaster measures. In five years we will probably be having the same conversation and I sincerely hope it is not as a result of another murder or assault on betting shop staff.
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling backs betting shop workers and the Communities Union in their bid to end lone staffing and today we ask that you support those in the betting industry and sign this e-petition calling for an end to lone staffing in betting shops.