Wednesday, 5 March 2014

New Code of Conduct by Bookmakers for FOBT's passes the smoke and mirrors test.

Last week the Association of British Bookmakers unveiled a new Code of Conduct for their members, representing the vast majority of the UK’s high street bookies.

I am concerned that the code, which requires flash screens when an individual has lost £250 and a few other measures, may be little more than window dressing when we look at the vast sums that are lost on these machines.

What purpose does a flash screen show after someone has lost £250? It reminds them how much they need to win back and will probably compel people to chase their losses. Surely if there is going to be a flash screen, this should be used once £250 (or preferable less) has been staked not once it has been lost.

Perhaps a further step would be to make this Code of Conduct mandatory, as opposed to voluntary. Problem gamblers already succeed in getting around self-exclusion, and Professor Alex Blaszczynski of Sydney University believes that uptake of these measures by problem gamblers is as low as 3%. If this is the case then I believe that they are simply an attempt to create the appearance of a responsible approach to gambling, rather than a genuine measure aimed at reducing high-loss problem gambling. I can see no good argument against making this measure mandatory – it will not affect responsible gamblers, and it risks not being used by problem gamblers.

Moreover the measure in the code of conduct regarding training the staff to help deal with problem gamblers could in fact put staff in physical danger if a customer has become agitated at a significant loss. This is even more concerning as shops have moved towards single staffing as a means of cutting costs.

It is a small step in the right direction, but it must absolutely not come at the cost of further real progress in tackling problem gambling, and empowering customers.