The Campaign for Fairer Gambling discusses the implications of recent news stories on bookmakers.
Andy Hornby, the disgraced banker, might actually be running Ladbrokes Coral according to the Mail on Sunday. If that’s the case, Jim Mullen was less a chief executive and more a mouthpiece when he said “We won’t go down without a fight”.
With William Hill’s share price at a five-year low and Ladbrokes’ declining, share prices are clearly in free fall. Credit Suisse has claimed that betting shop profits could be hit by 40% to 50% for these two FOBT big boys, under a £2 maximum stake.
Regarding the fight, the bookies are threatening a Judicial Review if they don’t like the result of the government’s FOBT review. But if the bookies go to court, Judges will not look kindly on selective evidence production, such as hiding information on FOBT criminal damage.
The ineffective regulatory system that allowed Mr Hornby to obtain the privilege of profiting from gambling also allows the bookies to deny access to crime statistics. So, a new anti-crime initiative in betting shops, BetWatch, should in theory be helpful.
The Gambling Commission recently explained that five people have been banned from 24 betting shops across Birmingham in a BetWatch partnership between itself, the police, the local council and bookmakers. These individuals were “suspected” of “drug-dealing” and “anti-social” behaviour.
When Newham Council tried to raise anti-social behaviour in and around betting shops as an issue related to their obligation to prevent an association between gambling and crime, the Gambling Commission did not support it. But with changing political optics and a toughening of the regime at the Gambling Commission, and with Birmingham Council and West Midlands police raising the issue, the Birmingham-based Gambling Commission was prompted into action.
As the Campaign has been explaining for years now, FOBTs attract money-launderers and betting shops are a venue of choice for drug dealers. The bookies claim that technology can be used to help with “responsible” gambling, but don’t want to use technology to prevent money-laundering. Bafflingly, Treasury has claimed that betting shops are “proven low-risk” money-laundering premises, excluding them from money-laundering regulations.
Were it not for FOBTs, there would have been dramatic shop consolidation resulting in larger premises with more staffing and better controls to prevent criminality. With FOBTs and BetWatch, shops that should be closed due to failure to comply with licensing objectives are having their profits protected!
Calling this a scheme and applying the BetWatch name is fine PR spin, which is one of the very few areas the bookies excel in. The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) formed the SafeBet Alliance with police to help prevent robberies, but checking the ABB’s link to the latest police statistics rather aptly provides a link to nowhere.
Criminal damage is a huge issue in betting shops, with one-fifth of machines being smashed up every year. Two FOBT addicts are claiming “automatism” as grounds to plead not guilty to such charges, which is along the lines of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Rage against the machine does not occur with regularity in any venues other than in betting shops, the only easily accessible premises with FOBTs. Roulette is already an irrational game to play, as each extra number you bet is a bet that your pre-existing bets will lose! Speeded up in an electronic format and sold to the young and vulnerable in deprived communities it has created a recipe for disaster.
Addictive gambling is an irrational temporary disorder, a mental health condition, rather than “irresponsible” behaviour. Labelling normal gambling as “responsible” implies that those who experience harm are “irresponsible”, absolving the product of blame. This is why the notion of “responsible gambling” is the favoured narrative of the gambling establishment. Beware of more “responsible” spin in the run up to the October DCMS review announcement!