Stop the FOBTs campaigner Adrian Parkinson this week featured on Wales This Week’s programme on problem gambling. Adrian has 25 years’ experience in the betting industry, and in the role of regional machines manager at the Tote, was responsible for rolling out FOBTs.
The programme features one of thousands of problem gamblers whose problems developed as a result of an addiction to FOBTs. As Professor Jim Orford said, the accessibility of machines where you can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds is producing negative social consequences, and consequences which the state are not equipped to deal with.
There is only one NHS Clinic for Problem Gambling in the UK and it’s in London. We fully support Labour MP Paul Flynn’s call for a similar NHS-run clinic in Wales. In the meantime, charities are filling the void and whilst early intervention is crucial, it does require the problem gambler to recognise they have a problem. As gambling intervention worker Salimah Mussabir-Turner says, it’s very hard for clients to take that initial step.
In the early stages of my addiction to FOBTs, I’d win as well as lose and it only ever felt like a problem when I’d lost. At first I’d just tell myself that I was unlucky, or just that I’d limit myself next time. Any sort of rationale to justify why I wasn’t going to stop. In the latter stages – having lost around £6,000 by the age of 18, I’d win more but I’d lose a lot more. I was betting £100 a spin on roulette, sometimes walking out with over a thousand pounds, but on one occasion I lost £2,500 in a matter of hours.
I realised I had a problem at this point and I knew I needed to stop. I remember losing my last £100 spin and going straight to the counter to self-exclude. I was at University in Birmingham and attended a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, but I couldn’t relate to the others in the group. Many had lost their houses and had been gambling for years.
Weeks later, I was gambling again, in the same shop I’d self-excluded from. FOBTs are so addictive I found myself compelled to go back to them even though it’s something that I knew I shouldn’t be doing as I had acknowledged I had a problem, I knew it was causing me not just financial problems but it was also having an impact on me education and my personal and social life. I used to rationalise it by saying to myself “I’ll just put £20 in, that’s it”. Before I knew it, I’d lost the £20 and had put another £20 in. Then I’d stick £60 in and say, “I’ll get this up to £200 and cash out even”. This, obviously, never happened.
By self-excluding, I had admitted I had a problem, yet didn’t believe anyone could help me. I didn’t want to talk to a faceless person behind a computer screen on Gamcare, but I did at least expect the industry to meet me half way. Yet their clear lack of regard for problem gamblers is evident. How can they expect their staff to memorise as many as 100 names and photos in a self-exclusion book?
More sophisticated technology is there and they made £1.4bn out of FOBTs alone last year, so why don’t they use it? The answer is simple. Professor Jim Orford estimates at least 23% of that £1.4bn comes from problem gamblers.
When I hit rock bottom for the second time, I was fortunate enough to receive cognitive behavioural therapy. This didn’t cure me, but it helped. The work the NHS Clinic for Problem Gambling do is fantastic and this is a programme which needs to be rolled out across the country. Until then, capping FOBTs at £2 a spin, bringing them in line with all other Category B gaming machines, will help to ensure the number of problem gamblers doesn’t spiral out of control.
If you have a story of problem gambling you would like to share, email me in confidence.