Friday, 24 January 2014

My article for Politics Home on FOBT's

Nick Clegg & LibDems voted to support FOBT's in Parliament
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals have been described as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ and they are the latest problematic consumer issue to land in the governments ‘broken markets’ in tray.

Touch screen arcade machines that offer pay by credit card roulette at £100 per spin every 20 seconds, a possible £18,000 per hour and whose easy profits have transformed betting shops into mini casinos. A recent 2CV survey in Newham of 500 FOBT gamblers found that 87% see FOBT’s as addictive; 62% have gambled until all their money is gone, and 59% put what they win straight back into the machine.

This plague of multi-mini casino’s sitting alongside payday lenders, cash converters has transformed high streets across the United Kingdom. Mary Portas, the Government’s high street tzar stated “the influx of betting shops, often in more deprived areas, is blighting our high streets” with the 50 constituencies with the highest unemployment pumping a staggering £5.6bn into 4,454 FOBTs. Compare that to the 50 constituencies with the lowest levels of unemployment spending £1.4bn in 1,054 terminals and it’s easy to see that the bookmakers are targeting the poor.

According to the British Gambling Prevalence Survey FOBTs are the third largest source of problem gambling with 23 per cent of the money spent on FOBT’s was spent by people with gambling problems.

Hyndburn constituent Ben Smith wrote to me saying; “I lost everything. From family trust to my degree because of FOBT machines on Great Harwood high street. I know many others still in the clutches of them and I still get tempted by play them.”

The industry is growing fast. Last year a staggering £46 billion went into FOBTs— a 50 per cent rise in four years. For bookmakers that stacks up to £1.55 billion profit in the last financial year. Leading bookmakers have opened multiple adjacent stores to get around the 4 FOBT limit per premise. Landman Economics stated that FOBTs have now overtaken traditional betting activities such as bets on football and horseracing, etc. as the main source of revenue generation for bookmakers.

There not just a problem to gamblers. The Gambling Commission recently forced Coral to pay back £90,000 profit from a single customer in the north-east, who had laundered £900,000 through FOBTs and Ladbrokes are currently being investigated for money laundering.

Staff too face dangerous working conditions with shifts to single staffing and threats of violence. According to an internal memo seen by Guardian Money, William Hill instructs staff not to contact the police when customers not already known to staff damage the machines "to reduce the number of reports to police.". Betfred are now linking staff pay to FOBT turnover in a take it or resign deal’.

Ed Miliband’s announcement last month to allow ‘Council FOBT free zones’ sent bookmakers share prices tumbling with bookmakers rushing to their defend profits. This shouldn’t’ stop civil society wanting to protect the vulnerable and crucially, the torment their families suffer waiting and worrying back at home.