The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes following a meeting of the APPG for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals and provides an update of the Campaign’s activities.
At the latest hearing of the All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs under Chair Carolyn Harris MP, Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, Cllr Morris Bright of the Local Government Association and Edward Davies of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), each reflected on the wider issues of gambling, whilst reconfirming their respective demands for a reduction to £2 a spin on FOBTs.
The following day a very well attended rally was held by the APPG for supporters of the £2 stake with speakers including long-standing supporters Carolyn Harris MP, Lord Don Foster, Ronnie Cowan MP, Sir Robin Wales and Matt Zarb-Cousin. It was also great to hear from two new speakers who have each had a long-term interest.
Alexis Conran was behind the 2012 BBC documentary Gambling Addiction and Me; The Real Hustler spoke about that film and his personal background. Iain Duncan Smith MP spoke about his CSJ report and explained that he raised concerns about betting shops at a Cabinet sub-committee a few years ago, only to be rebuffed. If action was taken then, maybe the Mirror story of another FOBT-related suicide would never have been written.
Derek Webb of Fairer Gambling gained consensus for his view that any stake other than £2 was not acceptable, after reflecting politely that the bookies do not behave correctly and do not correctly explain themselves. He brought up the following points:
The Campaign has filed an application for Judicial Review of the Treasury decision to exclude gambling sectors, other than casinos and remote casinos, from the EU’s 4th Money Laundering Directive, which would have required those staking more than £1,500 a day in betting shops to show ID. Whilst the initial response on paper is a rejection the opportunity to request oral argument will be pursued.
Derek advised that NERA has produced a report estimating the impact of a £2 maximum stake on FOBTs on bookmaker profits (around 40% down) and betting shop closures (less than 20%). These are in marked contrast to figures from the bookies’ secret KPMG report.
Derek spoke about a visit to Belfast, observing that FOBTs allowed stakes of £100 per spin without any loyalty card requirement. Furthermore, FOBTs did not offer the limits and messages, the alleged “social responsibility” measures. A large Ladbrokes shop did not even have any displayed information on helplines. The conclusion must be that the bookies only care about being perceived to be socially responsible when they’re under pressure.
BBC Northern Ireland (NI) featured Derek in a Spotlight investigation into FOBTs, explaining that FOBTs have never been legalised there. The Campaign has a QC’s opinion that FOBTs are illegal in NI. Spotlight also disclosed a letter from the NI Attorney General to a senior politician declaring an opinion of the illegality of NI FOBTs.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, has now filed a libel action against the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) and its CEO Malcolm George. On a Channel 4 News broadcast Mr George had falsely claimed that Matt “is a man who is funded by the casino industry” and was giving a “deliberate and conscious mis-portrayal”.
Mr George has refused to appear before the FOBT APPG to answer questions on the KPMG report, which he “mis-portrays” as if it is fact. However, as econometric modelling depends on assumptions, Parliamentarians have their right to demand that the ABB KPMG report is made available for scrutiny.
The ABB has stamped it “confidential” and claims it contains “commercially sensitive” information. But the only significant competitor not in the ABB is BetFred, which is astute enough of market conditions to win the rights to purchase the Tote shops and the surplus shops from the Ladbrokes Coral merger.
The bookies have been forecasting thousands of shop closures for years in order to try to prevent the introduction of machine games duty at 20% and the subsequent increase to 25% on FOBTs. So, how can anybody believe their current closure forecasts?
With the vast majority of ABB betting shops being in the hands of public companies, whatever could be in the KPMG report that is “commercially sensitive”? Could it be a bookie-directed flawed methodology?