The Campaign for Fairer Gambling comments on recent media stories on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
Saturday’s Daily Mail story entitled “Now IDS calls for curbs on ‘crack cocaine’ bet machines as he urges maximum stakes to be slashed from £100 to just £2” relates of course to Iain Duncan Smith, who established the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). This think tank recently published a report entitled “Lowering the Stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals”.
IDS commented: “Families of gamblers inevitably pay a high price as these terminals feed an addiction every bit as pernicious as drug addiction.” This is a sad indication that successive governments have failed to grasp how serious gambling addiction is. Despite it being a mental health issue, there is no dedicated NHS plan and the spend on treatment is pitifully low relative to other addictions. IDS argued on Conservative Home that the campaign to limit stakes to £2 a spin “cuts across political lines” and that the correlation between FOBTs and problem gambling cannot be ignored.
Although Paddy Power is in the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), it does not have the same membership status as the two big boys, William Hill and Ladbrokes. The ABB is really just a PR vehicle for these two large corporations.
In a Times article headlined “Betting boss breaks ranks on gambling machine crackdown”, the departing boss of Paddy Power, Breon Corcoran, is quoted as telling gambling analysts he is “almost ambivalent” about FOBT stake reduction. He has also explained that Paddy Power would not close betting shops as a consequence of a £2 maximum stake.
Paddy Power BetFair is a superior remote gambling operator to William Hill and Ladbrokes, and has an estate of betting shops much more effectively located, being a newer entrant to the market. The two big boys have legacy estates with still some inferior units, but have been more focussed on growing their remote business.
The ABB has used a KPMG report, which it has not been willing to publish, to claim how many shops would close as a consequence of a £2 maximum stake. But if the big boys had spent their cash making betting shops more viable, rather than on misleading TV ads or moving shops into clusters to build their businesses around the supposedly ancillary FOBTs, then maybe fewer of their shops would be “at-risk”. The last thing that DCMS should consider weighing is the impact on betting shops, when self-inflicted actions by the ABB big boys are a primary contributory factor.
Even City AM could not give the bookies a free run as it featured an article under the headline “Debate: Should the chancellor block the crackdown on fixed odds betting terminals?” Eloquently advocating “NO” was Campaign for Fairer Gambling consultant Matt Zarb-Cousin, in the clean corner.
Saying “YES” in the dirty corner, was a friend of tobacco and fossil fuels, the Adam Smith Institute represented by “Education Director” Daniel Pryor, espousing the usual libertarian, neo-liberal, whatever-ism that helps this “charity” get the corporate funding which it does not disclose. A non-entity from a discredited “think-tank” will have no influence with the current government, or the next one.
Meanwhile a Sunday Mirror article entitled “Labour and Tories unite to fight scourge of gaming machines dubbed ‘crack cocaine of gambling’,” explains Shadow DCMS Tom Watson promising the DCMS Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, that Labour will vote to support her recommendation for a £2 maximum stake. This will allay any fears that it could be derailed by Treasury manoeuvres and far-right Tory back-benchers.
With IDS and the CSJ in our corner, with Paddy Power breaking ranks and with the Labour commitment, where will the bookies turn to next? Are they again relying on their industry funded charity the Responsible Gambling Trust (now GambleAware) to come up with more smoke and mirrors?