[toc]The debate surrounding fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBTs) in the UK has had a new spanner thrown in the works this month. Namely, that several members of parliament (MPs) received hospitality from the country’s largest bookmakers.
The crackdown on the maximum FOBT stake is a long-running news story. These latest revelations reported by The Guardian show that some MPs are pushing arguments from lobbyists for the bookmakers.
Some of the arguments MPs presented include:
- Highlighting the efforts betting shops have made to tackle problem gambling
- Stressing the importance of betting shops as employers
- Urging tougher action on online gambling sites, which are impacting bookmakers’ profits
With certain MPs allegedly received lavish hospitality from the biggest bookies, many believe Parliament is preventing reduction in the stakes of FOTBs as well as efforts to remove them altogether.
What are FOTBs and why are they controversial?
They are hugely controversial due to their highly-addictive qualities. Many go so far as to call them the “crack cocaine of gambling”.
The current maximum FOTB stake on any bet is £100, meaning customers can potentially lose thousands of pounds in minutes. FOTBs are considered one of the most significant contributors to problem gambling in the UK, leading to the misery of thousands of lives and families.
Despite that, they are plentiful. There are around 34,000 FOTBs currently in operation in the UK. They generate a staggering £1.4 billion in profits every year for bookmakers.
In an effort to combat problem gambling, a review by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recommended reducing the maximum stake to between £50 and £2 from £100.
A report produced by the Responsible Gambling Trust suggests that customers can lose an average of £230 an hour on FOBTs. However, if the maximum stake was cut from £100 to £2, the average loss per hour would fall to £9.72.
The government launched a twelve-week consultation period. During that time, MPs have been arguing for and against changes. And now some believe MPs are acting as lobbyists for the bookies.
Who is involved?
According to a BBC report earlier this year, Ladbrokes Coral was the most frequent donor to UK MPs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also operates the largest number of FOBTs in the UK.
Ladbrokes Coral made 15 donations worth a total of £7,500 to four MPs. The company also treated them to hospitality donations, including trips to Ascot, Cheltenham, and other big horse-racing events.
Labour MP David Lammy said:
“I have been campaigning against fixed-odds betting terminals for many years now, and everyone who has been involved in this campaign is well aware that the gambling lobby is a very powerful and well-resourced organisation with friends in parliament who are keen to protect their interests and profits. The damage caused by these machines has been tolerated for far too long, aided and abetted by this lobbying.”
However, members of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have also acknowledged that reducing the FOBT stakes in betting shops may simply drive gambling activity elsewhere.
If FOTBs drop stakes, gambling could go underground
Arcades, bingo halls, and pub chains have all been vocal in their support of clamping down on betting shops’ FOBTs. However they are also the places expected to soak up the gambling activity if the maximum FOBT stake is reduced.
Dr. Jonathan Parke, an expert on gambling behaviour, said:
“Restrictions on stake size alone fail to adequately address concerns in relation to cost of play. A stake-only approach ignores the role of game speed, game volatility and return-to-player. Even if campaigners are successful in securing a £2 stake through the DCMS consultation, we will still have gaming machines on the high street where people can lose hundreds of pounds an hour.”
While Lammy added:
“Gambling regulation has not kept up with modern technology, particularly the rapidly growing online casino gambling sector, and also the exploitative marketing ploys used by gambling companies and affiliates who sign up users through introductory offers promoted on social media.”
The consultation period continues.
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