I received a letter today from the manager of a betting shop who understandably wants to remain anonymous. I had recently commented about the industries refusal to provide live data from FOBTs. This individual informed me that the industries don’t want any research done and that their assertion that they want to minimize harm is completely false. In fact, the insider reported that he had been present in meetings where the term ‘getting them hooked’ has been used in terms of selling machines. “I can tell you that one of the biggest fears of those higher up in the company is research being done.”
The store manager went on to say that managers are given the task of speaking to customers that they consider as having a problem, despite the fact that the only training they have received “amounts to a couple sheets of A4.” Clearly harm reduction is not high on their agenda when it comes to FOBTs – as you would expect the case to be when these machines are such effective cash cows.
The manger went on to describe his experiences with problem gamblers. “I’ve personally seen a customer wet himself rather than leave a machine to go to the toilet. I’ve seen women and men crying and the violence that stems from the machines is scary…Those that work in the shops all know they're addictive. We all hate them for the problems they cause us. Shops are staying open longer and staff are not being employed to cover the hours. 14 hr shifts are not uncommon and they constantly break the rules regarding an 11 hour minimum break between shifts. All so we can stay open for the machines.”
This insider concluded by saying, “Believe me when I say, that if it costs me my job to ensure these parasitic machines are kicked into touch, I for one will have no complaint. And I know others that feel the same.”
The experiences of this manager support what I’ve longed believed to be the case. The industry is using the addictive nature of FOBTs to exploit problem gamblers. Despite their claims that FOBTs are not addictive, they refuse to provide data about FOBTs and fear what research would reveal. As such, they have repeatedly rebuffed Cambridge University’s request to examine a FOBT machine. It is shameful that they industry knowingly continues to exploit gambling addicts for profit. It is therefore necessary that we continue to pressure the industry to provide access to data, and campaign for greater powers for local authorities to deal with the clustering of these machines and the social problems which result.
The betting shop manager who contacted me is incredibly brave for speaking out, and I encourage anyone who works in betting shops and has similar stories to get in touch with the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.