On behalf of the founder and funder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, we would like to thank everyone who helped to achieve the objective of Stop the FOBTs: a cut in the maximum stake from £100 to £2 a spin.
I started campaigning against FOBTs in 2012, before I met and teamed up with Derek. At that time, gambling-related harm was widely regarded by policymakers as the consequence of somehow “faulty” individuals. The dominant “responsible gambling” paradigm located the cause of harm in “irresponsible” or “reckless” behaviour, marginalising the impact of marketing, access and addictive or harmful products. There was great resistance by not just the betting sector but the entire gambling establishment – including the regulator and the Responsible Gambling Trust – to the notion that the product, including the maximum stake, can have an impact on levels of harm.
Campaigning successfully against FOBTs therefore required an overhaul of how the role of gambling products was perceived in the context of inducing or exacerbating harm. The evidence showed that not all gambling is the same, some products are more addictive than others, and FOBTs – the “crack cocaine of gambling” – were the most harmful. Winning this argument in the media, with the public and with politicians has led to something of an intellectual revolution in the key bodies of the gambling establishment, including in the government, at GambleAware (formerly the Responsible Gambling Trust) and within the Gambling Commission. The regulator’s shift away from a player-centric to a more all-encompassing approach to harm prevention is exemplified by their departure from the “responsible gambling” paradigm in favour of advocating “safer gambling”, which is targeted primarily at gambling operators.
Where we were once the outsiders in the public policy debate, we are now the centre of gravity. A new common sense has been defined by the success of Stop the FOBTs, and that new context means gambling businesses can no longer deny that there is a problem with levels of harm, or that the solution may be in limiting stakes on certain products. Remote gambling operators have no choice but to engage constructively with the new status quo on meaningful solutions that will significantly
reduce the sector’s unsustainable reliance on profits derived from people experiencing gambling problems. Their alternative is obsolescence.
Gambling operators need to adapt to this new context, which means we have to adapt as well. When the key institutions of the gambling establishment all agree on there being a problem and are receptive to meaningful solutions, we are no longer insurgent campaigners but stakeholders who can engage constructively in policymaking.
There are now many different ways we can do this. Labour is putting together a new Gambling Act, and has already committed to introducing limits to gambling products online. The All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs has rebranded as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm and is looking into online gambling. Powerful groups such as Gambling With Lives are emerging, giving a voice to previously voiceless bereaved families, and advancing the debate on the link between gambling addiction and suicide.
Our success was in no small part down to the work of Murray Carmichael-Smith, who from day one has supported the campaign’s strategic planning, PR, event management, social and digital work.
With the support of the founder, I will carry on working with these entities and with the media to inform the debate, as well as continuing my involvement with the development of blocking software Gamban. If a need for a campaign on a single issue arises, and if the landscape means an insurgent campaign is the most effective means for achieving a specific objective, then I will put one together. But I am optimistic about what can be achieved in the short term without that.
10 Years of delay and (finally) success
2009 – DCMS plans triennial review
2010 – Plans for stake increase results in more FOBT slot games
2011 – Research shows extent of stakes levels impact
2012 – Philip Davies MP recommends more FOBTs
2013 – Government claim there is no evidence of harm associated with £100 stakes
2014 – Responsible Gambling Trust commissions research into “all Category B machines”
2014 – Newham Council calls on the government to reduce the maximum stake to £2 spin
2015 – ID threshold is introduced
2016 – The APPG on FOBTs recommends a reduction to £2 spin
2017 – Treasury ignores Gambling Commission advice that FOBTs are high-risk
2018 – DCMS recommends £2 maximum
2019 – The maximum bet on FOBTs was changed from £100 to £2