Friday, 28 September 2012

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - Letter to the Observer

At the start of the recess the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman spoke out against Fixed Odds betting Terminals found in bookmakers. The Daily Mail, not a paper I always agree with ran with the headline “They're the high-tech one-armed bandits spreading like a cancer across High Streets. To their eternal shame, MPs want more of them”. The Daily Mail adding; “They are so addictive they have been called the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling”. Powerful words and it is a shame, a point made by Harriet that Labour brought forward the legislation which allowed this.

These FOBT look like one armed bandits and the principal game played on FOBT, roulette is by nature, highly addictive. As one former industry employee said ”The high stake, fast spin nature of Roulette as played on FOBT is very different to that of Casino Roulette which leads players to stake up and therefore accumulate bigger losses. Bookmakers know this. Lewis Rogers (Bookmakers PR spokesperson) is quite inexperienced in this field and is just espousing company the company line.”

I have written to the Government to find out the facts here in the constituency including importantly Haslingden. The governments answer was evasive saying they had already been published online but in further examination this was not the case.

In absence of the facts ‘Fairer Gambling’ stated there were up to 22 in Hyndburn and Channel 4 programme Dispatches stated that these deadly machines ‘took in up to £18,000 per hour’ supporting the horror stories that now are appearing in public. It is worth making the crucial point that the gambling industry have not disputed these figures.

Apart from Channel 4 no research has been commissioned into the cash consumption per hour of these machines because the reality of all the bluster in last week Observer (and nationally), bookmakers are terrified of what it will show.

It is ironic that Lewis Rogers, a bookmakers PR spokesperson should base his case simply by accusing the other side of erroneous facts. He argued the £18,000 per hour consumption rate is false because there is a 97% payout. Opponents argue that “they actually operate on a ‘theoretical’ margin of 2.7% per spin. Hence the cumulative effect of a session of plays is that the machine will retain minimum 17% of money gambled”.

The PR spokesperson also stated that there were 12 not 22 as Fairer Gambling had claimed. I believe there are roughly 15 but when contacting the Accrington Observer, why didn’t the industry come clean instead of simply criticising Fairer Gambling (or myself)? Perhaps because they don’t want the public to know the true facts or discuss the issue? This week the industry contacted the Accrington Observer to spread confusion, doubt and to maintain its position of ‘profitable denial’ of its responsibilities.

National figures released show that a staggering £12.5 billion was gambled via William Hill and Ladbrokes’ betting machines in the first six months of this year alone.

What has sparked this debate was the MP’s Select Committee who wish to increase the numbers of these gambling machines (FOBT) from 4 to 20 per shop. Some newspapers attributed the critical quotes to myself and whilst I share their argument, for clarity readers ought to know who originally said what. I believe the majority of people in this constituency do not want 20 of these machines per bookmaker and why now is the time to say something.

Gambling is there for pure enjoyment, not to make it easier for more people to become addicted. Nor is it there to wreck families. Gambling has a responsibility not to just to its customers but society, all of us. It’s time the industry came clean on these machines instead of trying to protect their corporate profits.