Bookies are targeting the poor with gambling’s crack cocaine


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9:45 am - February 15th 2013

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by Matt Zarb-Cousin

Take a walk down any high street these days and you’ll probably see a cluster of betting shops. Pack-like, they feed off of the customers of the others, safe in the knowledge that there will always be demand for their most addictive product – the FOBT.

The FOBT, or Fixed Odds Betting Terminal, is a touch-screen twin-screen roulette and casino gaming machine found in the bookies. They have been described as the “crack cocaine of gambling” because of the high stakes and high speed of play – it is possible to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds. Law limits each betting shop to four, so bookies open as many shops as possible. This is why we get clustering, and it’s not surprising when each FOBT is worth over £900 per week in profit to them.

But bookies are a business, they exist to make a profit, what’s wrong with that? Well, a number of things.

Firstly, research commissioned by Dispatches and carried out by Geofutures found there to be more than twice as many betting shops in areas of high unemployment than in areas of low unemployment. The trend across the country suggests they are targeting the poor.

Secondly, the FOBT-driven proliferation of betting shops in some of our most deprived areas is not creating jobs. In 2010, there were 8,822 shops employing 57,319 people. Last year, with 9,128 shops the industry creates just 54,449.

A magnet for violence and anti-social behaviour, bookies are an irresponsible industry, proliferating in our most deprived areas, sucking demand out of local economies and treating their staff with total contempt, many of whom have spoken to us in confidence but are frightened to speak out in case they lose their jobs.

Thirdly, there isn’t the infrastructure in place to deal with the number of problem gamblers we’re going to have if we keep seeing an incremental rise in the number of FOBTs. There won’t be a Prevalence Survey this year as the funding has been cut, but in 2010 there were 450,000 problem gamblers in the UK.

According to international evidence, each problem gambler costs the state £8,000 per year – yet the industry give £5m, just 0.1% of their £5bn profits – to the Responsible Gambling Trust, which funds one single NHS Clinic for Problem Gambling in the entire country. I spoke to someone recently who’d been on the waiting list for eight months.

For these reasons, this week we launched the “Stop the FOBTs” campaign in Westminster. Sign up, get involved, share your stories. If you know someone who has been affected by FOBTs, or if you have yourself, then we want to hear from you.

Despite stating that “common sense dictates there is a problem with FOBTs”, the government has said they will wait for the conclusion of research carried out by the Responsible Gambling Trust before it imposes any restrictions. But when the chair of the Responsible Gambling Trust is also the chair of the Association of British Bookmakers, is it surprising this issue has been kicked into the long grass until just before the election, when corporations start writing cheques to political parties?

We believe we can win by highlighting to MPs the extent of the problem, so find out how much is gambled in your constituency on our website, write to your MP, and join our campaign.

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Reader comments


The OP sounds like a compulsive bansturbator.

Why not, in ‘poor’ areas, stop the sale of alcohol, fags, sweets, burgers etc – the vendors of which are all making a profit from the ‘poor’ and encouraging them to damage their health?

Gambling when the odds are less than 50:50 is arguably irrational, and definitely not a good idea when you are on a tight budget. Bansturbation, however, is not the answer. All we can reasonably do is educate people to make responsible choices.

I don’t support a ban but it’s worth remembering the gambling industry gained a great deal of legitimacy when the last government actively promoted it.

Many of us argued at ghe time the National Lottery was a tax on the stupid as it channeled money out of the pockets of the poor into the tills of theatres and opera companies but it also raised expectations that you could gamble your way out of poverty.

@2 Not to mention it allowed for a bit of middle class scorn to be directed toward lottery player’s ‘stupidity’ because of the minuscule odds. Course what they miss is that even with the ‘likely to never happen’ odds, winning the lottery remains the only chance the poorest ever have of financial stability.

Couple of quid a week for the slim chance to do right by your children and family, and make sure they have a roof over their heads for life, regardless of what happens to you? Bargin price that.

1) the industry creates just 54,449 jobs – JUST!
2) I live in a poor area and there are lots of Greggs – are they praying on people and making them fat?
3) £5million sounds reasonable to me
4) why is you focusing on these FOB things, my mate lost on football
5) comparison with crack cocaine, really, come on
6) da problem where i is closed shops

£900 a week – my local hairdresser does 12k a month. guess you have not worked in business.

900 x 4 = £3,600 – suprised they can pay the wages, rent, rates etc

And if you think there are too many shops because of the limit of machines, why not restrict the limit?

I thought a campaign against betting would be in a posh area and then I saw it’s in Westminster. Conformation then.

Cylux @ 3:

Largely agree with you. “Couple of quid a week” is budgeted gambling and as such harmless fun that gives some people hope.

However…”Middle class scorn”: I think your sterotypes are showing. It is not only members of the middle classes who think the Lottery is a voluntary tax on the daft, and it’s not only the ‘poor’ who play it.

“According to international evidence, each problem gambler costs the state £8,000 per year”.

Really? How is this calculated?

It’s weakness.

That’s really all it is. Pure and simple. It’s self-control.

You don’t masturbate in the subway, do you?

Do you shit in the street?

Of course you don’t.

Because you’ve gotten a hold of yourself.

10. Simon Whitten

This is all very patronising. The poor don’t lack self control and they don’t need busybodies telling them what they can and can’t spend their money on.

This is a real problem. The crux is no one enforces the regulations, betting shops provide little to no training or support for staff to deal with problem gamblers and though they have a legal responsibility to challenge and decline problem gamblers its more profitable to not deal with issue. After all why bother if you face no consequence? Stick out a few gamble aware leaflets and you’ve done your best, eh?

The 2005 gambling act needs revisiting, gambling companies need to be made to challenge problem gamblers both on and off line. FOBT are a symptom, the cure well that’s a debate we all need to engage in.

The trend across the country suggests they are targeting the poor.

Not to me, it suggests they are targeting their customers.

Just what the “poor” need is another double-barrelled name telling them they are too stupid to make their own decisions. Since they are just automatons with no agency whatsoever, they really require a parliamentary researcher i.e. non-job to decide for them how they should be spending their money.

14. Chaise Guevara

A breakdown of comment 13:

*Attempt to criticise OP based on their surname.
*Blatant lies about content of OP.
*Dismissal of role as “non-job” on good old-fashioned “if I don’t know about it, it must be stupid” logic.

Definitely a contender for most pointless whinge of the week.

15. Chaise Guevara

@ 12 dave

“The trend across the country suggests they are targeting the poor.

Not to me, it suggests they are targeting their customers.”

Agreed. The OP’s focus on income demographics is specious. All products and services will be used by different numbers of people split by income, sex, age, race etc. and it’s tiresome when that’s used to demonise or to shoehorn in an accusation of a political agenda (“abortion is racist” etc).

What’s important here is that, in some customers at least, bookies are feeding an addiction, just as outlets selling alcohol are feeding the addiction of those of their customers who are alcoholics. So the question is what, if anything, we should do about that.

I don’t think that banning these terminals is the answer, any more than we should address alcoholism by banning cheap cider. Better education and access to treatment would probably help, as would addressing the underlying social issues that drive some people to take these activities to seriously harmful levels.

14. Chaise Guevara

” Attempt to criticise OP based on their surname.”

I would say the probable background of the OP and the definite demographic of those he seeks to regulate and control is relevant.

“Blatant lies about content of OP.”

It is not a blatant lie that the OP seeks to control the behaviour of others. He wishes to do that for an alleged problem that does appear to affect him. So our parliamentary researcher in shining armour is doing it to “protect” others from their own stupidity.

“Dismissal of role as “non-job” on good old-fashioned “if I don’t know about it, it must be stupid” logic.”

Calling a parliamentary researcher post a non-job is pretty polite. Others would be more forthright and call it corruption. The question to ask at all times is would we be any worse off if the job did not exist?

“Definitely a contender for most pointless whinge of the week.”

I think the OP qualifies in that respect. However, I have no doubt that Matt will go far in these puritanical prohibitionist times. He has all the qualities required to succeed and it is after all for our own good.

@7

However…”Middle class scorn”: I think your sterotypes are showing. It is not only members of the middle classes who think the Lottery is a voluntary tax on the daft, and it’s not only the ‘poor’ who play it.

Since my original reply got lost in the ether lets try again:
Perhaps, though I’ve only personally heard such ‘I’m smarter than them lot frittering away what little they have on such a poor chance’ high-horse critiques being expressed alongside scorn for ‘lowly born chavs’, from the mouths of people quite comfortably well off.
I will concede that my own personal experiences are just anecdote however.

18. Chaise Guevara

@ 16 Richard W

“I would say the probable background of the OP and the definite demographic of those he seeks to regulate and control is relevant.”

Only if you’re building an ad hom argument. Which is in itself irrelevant. But double-barrelled =/= posh these days, you need to catch up from roughly the 70s onwards. Feminism and so forth.

What “definite demographic” is this you refer to? I’m guessing that people of all sorts of demographics visit bookies, except non-gamblers obviously.

“It is not a blatant lie that the OP seeks to control the behaviour of others. He wishes to do that for an alleged problem that does [not] appear to affect him.”

No argument there.

“So our parliamentary researcher in shining armour is doing it to “protect” others from their own stupidity.”

Whereas this bit you made up all on your own. The only implication here is that you think all addicts are stupid, given that you can’t see any difference between the two conditions. As an addict myself, cheers for that.

“Calling a parliamentary researcher post a non-job is pretty polite. Others would be more forthright and call it corruption. The question to ask at all times is would we be any worse off if the job did not exist?”

If you’ve got evidence, by all means present it. As you originally decided just to call it a non-job (a term that’s up there with “common sense” and “in the real world” as favourites in the lexicons of dishonest arguers) you seem to have gone out of your way to avoid explaining your reasoning.

“I think the OP qualifies in that respect.”

Not a fan of the OP (see above), but it’s not pointless. I totally disagree with both the approach taken and the conclusions drawn, but the issue of these machines making it easier for gambling addicts to feed their addiction is a valid one, regardless of how we feel about it.

“However, I have no doubt that Matt will go far in these puritanical prohibitionist times. He has all the qualities required to succeed and it is after all for our own good.”

Well, let’s hope not.

19. Matt Zarb-Cousin

@Richard W.

Hi Richard, I find your ad hominem comments quite offensive and am disappointed you have resisted debating the issue. It’s a very serious one, as you would know if you’d ever been in a betting shop in more deprived, inner city areas.

As for the accusation that I’m a “knight in shining armour” as this is something that doesn’t affect me – (1) my name is double barrelled because it’s Maltese. It’s one name; and (2) I got addicted to FOBTs when I was 16. I lost £16000 and came close to committing suicide. If you want to talk about me, Google my name instead of basing your assertions on false prejudice. It’s not difficult.

20. Just Visiting

Matt

sorry to hear how your childhood was harmed by gambling.

But many have their lives harmed by alcohol – yet we refrain for calling for the banning of alcohol.

What argument would you make to support a different treatment for FOBTs?

And if FOBTs were to be banned – the betting industry will look for new, legal betting terminal types – have you given any thought to how hard/easy it would be for them to create legal, but very similar, devices?

21. Matt Zarb-Cousin

Hi Just Visiting.

The Gambling Act 2005 regulates gaming machines, so reducing the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2 would effectively ban B2 casino game content from betting shops. Creating a new machine that facilitated £100 stakes every 20 seconds would be illegal. The only reason they were allowed them before the Gambling Act was because betting shops were unregulated at the time. The then Gaming Board of Great Britain only had within its jurisdiction machines in casinos and bingo halls. FOBTs in the bookies have had casino content for just over 10 years, as prior to the 2005 Act, FOBTs were not classed as gaming machines under existing legislation so there were no limits on where they could be placed and in what numbers. Richard Caborn, former Minister for Sport and Tourism, said that if they had not been controlled, “you would have had wall-to-wall FOBTs in this country”. As a result of growing concern about the proliferation of these machines, a deal was reached between DCMS, the Gaming Board and the Association of British Bookmakers (which represents 85% of the UK’s betting shops): a Code of Practice for FOBTs was introduced – effectively self-regulation – limiting the number of gaming machines, including FOBTs, per betting shop to four. It also set limits on stakes and prizes; banned all casino-type games except roulette (which they soon got around, along with being able to load debit card payments onto the machines); set a minimum time interval between bets; and introduced signage and help pages on machines to deter problem gambling and assist problem gamblers. A subsequent inquiry—commissioned by the Association of British Bookmakers at the request of DCMS—concluded that “there is no evidence in this study which suggests that FOBTs are closely associated with problem gambling”. This research, however, was flawed – as the peer review states. Despite this, FOBTs were effectively “taken off probation” under the 2005 Act and classed as B2 machines. The limit of four machines per premises was reached as a trade-off between the DCMS and the industry.

Sorry for going on, hope that explains it.

“those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

I am afraid the writer exhibits the above failing, or that’s how the OP comes across. Just another do-gooder trying to moderate the behaviour of others which does him no harm but of of which he disapproves.

There is no such thing as gambling addiction or addiction to FOBT’s. Although gambling is no fun unless you bet enough so that it hurts if you lose, it is up to each individual to make choices in the expenditure of his income, including gambling, according to his circumstances.

It would seem that Mark wants to make others choices for them through prohibition, and that is the stamp of the authoritarian.

Of course FOBT are bad. They stop people spending their money on ‘The Business of Holidays’…

Honestly, given the obvious proclivities of this blog’s authors for making sponsored posts without the minimal disclosures necessary to meet basic standards of ethics, does anyone believe they’re not being paid by an interested party to promote a ban on FOBT? Who benefits? Purveyors of other forms of gambling. Who paid for this blog post? Take a guess.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 22 pagar

“here is no such thing as gambling addiction or addiction to FOBT’s. ”

So you’re just going to deny reality when it doesn’t suit you? Class.

25. the a&e charge nurse

[24] I’m sure pagar can speak for himself but I’m guessing here that he is dismissing gambling addiction once it is elevated to some sort of pseudo-medical construct?

There is a whole set of assumptions that follow on from the disease model – one that has been framed in skeptical terms when applied to other forms of addiction
http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=16526

From a libertarian perspective addiction represents an abdication of personal responsibility – a choice then muddied by dubious medical rationalisations.
Or put another way – does it necessarily follow that if somebody is self destructive enough it must be because there is some sort of biological explanation for it?

I have heard there are even internet addicts nowadays?

19. Matt Zarb-Cousin

I apologise for passing comment on your double barreled name and had no idea that it was Maltese.

“I got addicted to FOBTs when I was 16. I lost £16000 and came close to committing suicide. ”

Well it is a criminal offence for anybody to have a betting transaction with a person they know, or ought to know, is under 18. Perhaps you should have told them you were 16 and saved a lot of grief. Moreover, you would have had more information about your age than the betting establishment, so you were encouraging and facilitating their employees to commit criminal offences.

I am genuinely sorry to hear that you lost 16k at such a young age. Since you contemplated suicide I assume the money you lost was on credit cards. I am not qualified to say whether gambling is a true physical addiction in the same sense as chemical addictions. Compulsive behaviour being rewarded with endorphin release in the brain seems apt. The same type of thing afflicts many traders in financial markets who churn for no good reason. Many studies have shown that the more they trade the more endorphin is released.

You did not lose 16k through addiction or nefarious bookmakers. You lost 16k because the maths was against you. There is no other possibility but losing over a period of time against a math overound when the chance is entirely random. Since the chance is random you can apply no skill or knowledge to beat the maths.

I would not deny that some people will develop destructively compulsive habits playing fast replay games of chance. However, most people will not engage in the activity destructively. Whether we allow outliers or the average person to define how we see these things says a lot about what kind of society we aspire to be. When it comes down to it there is nothing the government can do to alter the fundamentals of basic arithmetic. Do we really want to live in a country where it is seen as the role of the state to protect people from arithmetic?

On the maths of speculation – and gambling – I suggest an engaging new book: The Physics of Finance, by James Weatherall as reviewed here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/9855094/The-Physics-of-Finance-by-James-Owen-Weatherall-review.html

As an antidote to those who believe financial markets are always efficient, try Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff: This Time Is Different – 8oo years of financial crises (Princeton UP, 2009)

“You did not lose 16k through addiction or nefarious bookmakers. You lost 16k because the maths was against you.”

As Cracker once said, the problem with gambling isn’t that you lose money, it is that you occasionally win money.

There are enough people who kid themselves that there is skill to gambling, and develop techniques that see the odds go more in their favour. You can stand in an arcade and observe the fruit machines and how other people are playing them, with a reasonable chance that you could identfy which machines had taken a lot of money and thus could be ‘forced’. And you probably will be more succesful at this than the random member of the public.

If it works on a few occasions in a row then people start to believe they can make money by doing this….and then it just takes one bad day when they start to chase their losses and gamble money they don’t have before debts are built up. And the debts mount as the person continues to chase the one big win that will make it alright.

One reason casino’s have maximum stakes is that if somebody keeps raising their stake eventually they will hit the massive win that pays off all their debts. If Matt had continued to gamble with increasingly higher stakes the maths suggest he would have won enough to pay off the 16k. But the psycology of gambling suggests he would have been too addicted to stop….

There are two kinds of people :-

Gamblers. These blielieve in lucky numbers, astrology or when a machine is ‘due to pay out’ etc.

Bettors. These play a long game. They know propabilities. Know the markets they play. They are experienced and professional in the broadest sense of the word.

Bettors/ bookmakers/ exchanges profit from the ‘silly money’ the gamblers provide.

Do not be too harsh on the gamblers. After all there were plenty of them at RBS, HBOS and others.

30. Chaise Guevara

@ 25 a&e

If someone knows something is bad for them but finds they need to force themselves to stop even when not actually enjoying it, and then face a possibly overwhelming desire to go back to doing it, I’d call that addiction. The extent to which it is reminiscent of drug addiction is interesting but not particularly relevant in terms of whether or not people are doing what they would choose given a clear field.

And of course there’ll be a biological reason for it – ultimately, what other reasons are there for the behaviour of biological beings?

If pagar’s no-doubt very well-researched point is: “It’s not a drug, so it’s not a proper addiction, snark snark”, then I’m pretty sure I’ve seen reports that non-chemical addictions like gambling and internet cause similar brain activity (read: biological causes) to drug addiction in terms of generating feelings of satisfaction and deprivation. Will google ‘em on request.

31. Chaise Guevara

@ a&e

(That rather convoluted definition was to exclude things like finding it hard to put down a chocolate bar halfway through, or carrying on playing a game that you’re bored of, both of which I’d call compulsive behaviour but not, in themselves, addiction. Although obviously you can get addicted to chocolate or games.)

30

You are correct about there being biological reasons for most behaviours, there’s a good account on wiki under ‘reward systems’, ultimately all behaviours cause some kind of chemical reaction in the brain which will vary from one individual to another eg some will be repulsed by the idea of gambling others get excited, some find alcohol pleasing when it can make others vomit. It’s really the strength of the reward system and the availability of the reward which generally determines whether something becomes an addiction.

I’m not sure that I agree with Pagar @22, I doubt if any of us would not attempt to constrain a gambler if they were starving their children in order to pursue their own pleasures

I’m afraid you all have the wrong end of the stick.

The fobt machines are designed from the ground up to be very very addictive.

I will illiterate, the simulation of the roulette wheel is coded to be almost hypnotic the graphics produced by the fobt are one of its main secrets, the second addictive factor would the pace the speed of which one can win or lose, the third addictive factor now this is top secret, the game is rigged but in a way to try and keep you at the table, near misses, lucky runs, or sometimes it will just try to simply annoy you by playing the opposite of everything you do, fourth the illusion that you can win as these machines are labelled random but are far from, fifth after you are addicted which you will be because no-one who plays fobts is not an addict I can prove that any day of the week fact, back to fifth after your addicted you will try to control your impulses but its hard because hey its only 20p roulette I wont get carried away oh great just won £20 maybe its not so bad… Lastly easy access there are bookmakers around every corner literally.

Now think about these factors and decide for yourself with these machines its all about luck, and that luck is based on you playing them or not, if you have never tried a fobt that’s why your not addicted like me I’m not addicted to drugs but if I dabbled with them there is a high chance I will become addicted that’s why these machines are rightly named the crack cocaine of gambling.

They should be outlawed immediately.


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