The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes following the publication of the Labour manifesto and reflects on whether the next Government will finally take action on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
Last week The Times revealed that more than £11 billion has been lost on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) since 2007, when the 2005 Gambling Act came into force. The last Labour government legitimised the bookies’ roulette machines, permitting stakes of up to £100 a spin in high street betting shops.
The Labour Party has recognised the impact of such a reckless move in their manifesto, which pledges to reduce the maximum stake to £2 a spin, in line with the Campaign for Fairer Gambling’s recommendation. This would significantly reduce the harm FOBTs are causing to individuals and communities.
The wider economic impact of FOBT losses was also revealed by the Times, using research by Howard Reed of Landman Economics, who explained: “Because money lost on FOBTs supports relatively little employment compared with spending elsewhere in the economy, £1 billion of “average” consumer spending supports around 21,000 jobs across the UK as a whole, whereas £1 billion lost on FOBTs supports only 4,500 jobs in the UK gambling sector. So for every £1 billion lost on FOBTs, over 16,000 jobs in the UK are destroyed.”
Landman Economics estimate that, as a result of the huge losses incurred on FOBTs, 186,000 jobs have been lost in the wider economy since 2007. This is something Conservative MPs and think tanks have also recognised. Philip Blond, Director of Respublica, wrote in a blog post that: “This liberalisation [of gambling] has not delivered economic prosperity” and “such machines reduce the staffing needs of betting shops and the cost of gambling itself reduces disposable and non-disposable income for individuals and families who fall into the ‘just about managing demographic.”
This week, Theresa May made her pitch to win over working class voters, having already pledged to assist the ‘just about managing’ demographic. Blond argues that “introducing better regulation of FOBTs would be one sure fire way of easing financial burden on this segment of the population.”
Respublica has joined the Campaign for Fairer Gambling’s call to reduce the maximum stake to £2 a spin. Meanwhile the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) is looking increasingly isolated. Their statement in response to Labour’s manifesto commitment to reduce the stake to £2 was bizarre, and can only be understood in the context of a trade association that has just given up.
Instead of recognising that Labour had legitimate, evidence based concerns about the £100 stake, and committing to engaging with them on the issue, the ABB burnt all bridges by claiming their policy is “flawed” by, ironically, citing conclusions from their own flawed research – from a report that they refuse to make public.
“Labour has fallen for the spin of our commercial rivals,” wailed the ABB in their press release. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling is not commercially motivated, and to accuse a political party of not being able to assess available evidence and draw their own conclusions, is not an approach that is likely to get them a hearing.
The ABB resorted to arguing that “horseracing would lose £290 million over the next three years and greyhounds would also lose millions of pounds a year in income”, which might have been a more convincing pitch if the betting industry hadn’t opposed the horse racing levy and refused to pay a racing right to greyhounds.
With an £11 billion windfall, the bookies have had a good run with FOBTs, which were introduced illegally and should never have been permitted in the first place. It’s looking increasingly likely that the next government, whichever party that might be, will finally take action.