I am aware that the Association of British Bookmakers is currently driving a campaign called “Back Your Local Bookie”, arguing that betting shops are “under attack”, and asserting that thousands of shops and therefore jobs are at risk. Calls to support this campaign are being targeted at industry employees and betting shop customers.
However, the current media and political interest is in FOBTs, which operate in betting shops. There has been nothing to indicate that this interest is derived from a specific attack on the betting industry. It is centred on concerns about FOBTs, in particular the relationship between problem gambling and high stakes gaming.
Public and political concern about FOBTs have resulted in comprehensive research being commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Trust, and FOBTs have been incorporated in the current Triennial Review of stakes and prizes by the Department for Culture Media and Sport.
A recent report published by NatCen based on the 2007 & 2010 British Gambling Prevalence surveys showed that there has been an increase in the number of 16-34 year olds gambling on FOBTs in betting shops (9% to 14%). Gamcare report that 28% of all calls they receive are related to FOBTs.
A secondary analysis based on the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey found FOBTs to be the only gambling type that remained significantly and positively associated with problem gambling. Therefore, we should welcome a sensible debate on the issue of FOBTs. Hugh Robertson, the Minister responsible for gambling at the Department for Culture Media and Sport has already said, “Common sense suggests there is a problem with these machines.”
There are no calls for FOBTs to be removed from betting shops. Only a sensible argument for the B2 casino content, where it is possible to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds, to be brought in line with all other Category B machines and capped at £2 per spin. This may impact on some B2 content, but B3 game content would still operate with a prize payout of £500. When B2 content was first introduced to betting shops, revenue transferred from over the counter business and fruit machines. If restrictions are imposed on B2 content, revenue will reverse to traditional betting products and also B3 content whilst, crucially, ensuring vulnerable people such as problem gamblers are protected.
The Gambling Act 2005 states one of its objectives is to protect young and vulnerable people. The implications of stakes up to £100 mean FOBTs are in violation of that objective and therefore the law, so it is my duty as a legislator to argue in favour of restrictions, which is what I will continue to do.