Tuesday, 9 April 2013

'Back your local bookie' campaign defends FOBT's

The highly controversial Fixed Odds Betting Terminals labelled the 'crack cocaine of gambling' by the Daily Mail have are being defended by the British Association of Bookmakers under the title, 'Back your Local Bookie'. These machines make huge profits for bookmakers.

The point is this; the case being put against FOBT is not a case per se against bookmakers. Most of the critics of FOBT's back their local bookmaker. This is a completely misleading campaign by the ABB. It would have been far more accurate to have called the campaign 'Back FOBT's in Bookmakers (they make huge profits)'.

A fun bet on the horses or football can be quite enjoyable. My predecessor Ken Hargreaves MP was liked a bet and whilst I cannot speak for him, I am sure he too would have had concerns about addictive/problem gambling and the wider impact it has on less wealthy families including children.

The campaign to bring to end these gambling machines as they currently stand is a powerful one. They take £100 per spin, the spin lasting as little as 20 seconds and the games on the machines are notorious for being highly addictive.

These machines were allowed by the last Labour Government in the 2005 Gambling Act.

I have written back to constituents making the following points;

Thank you for contacting me regarding Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and the related campaign by the Association of British Bookmakers.

I appreciate there is a long history of betting shops in many communities around the country and I know that some high street bookmakers and the Association of British Bookmakers are concerned that any change to the maximum stakes and prizes of FOBTs could affect their livelihood.

As you know, the Government recently launched a consultation on the 2005 Gambling Act and the level of stakes and prizes for FOBTs. I know that this consultation - which closes on 9th April 2013 - will provoke strong opinions on both sides and that the Government has suggested that people should continue to be allowed to stake £100 per turn on FOBTs, with a maximum prize of £500.

I am concerned, however, that there is evidence that FOBTs are making a disproportionate amount of money from poorer households in areas with high deprivation, such as Hyndburn. I therefore think it is important that the Government look carefully at the maximum stakes, speed of play and how we can break up the continuous cycles of play that lead to large sums of money being lost in such a short space of time. The current consultation provides precisely such an opportunity and I will closely study the Government's response when it is published.

Additionally, this Government scrapped the Gambling Prevalence Survey, which was an independent means of assessing the state of problem gambling in the UK. Therefore we have lost the best and most objective means of knowing the scale of the problem, and instead rely on the arguments made by the industry and anti-gambling campaigners. As MP I have received a lot correspondence from those who have had their lives ruined by problem gambling, and from those who are concerned about how betting shops are now more common and more visible than ever before.

I understand that the Responsible Gambling Trust is due to undertake an 18-month study into this issue, which I hope will also add to the evidence base for future decisions.

I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely and bear in mind the points you raise.

Thank you once again for contacting me.
Graham Jones MP