Fixed Odds Betting Terminals a.k.a. 'FOBTs', have long since been known as the "crack cocaine" of the high street. The campaign to have these machines either severely regulated or banned alltogether has recently been gaining pace. The Daily Mail ran an article this week stating that Gamblers wagered a staggering £46billion on betting terminals last year – nearly 50 per cent up in four years. This is a worrying increase.
Currently the maximum stake per betting round is £100. You can play a round of betting every 20 seconds. Parliament voted against reducing the maximum stake this week, which was rebuked as a missed opportunity by the campaigning group 'Stop the FOBTs'.
Labour MP Tom Watson said:
"Parliament has turned a blind eye to the transformation of Britain’s local bookmakers into High Street digital casinos. Even the Prime Minister has voiced his concern about the menace of these high speed, high stake machines.
“We’ve missed an opportunity to deal with the menace of FOBTs today. Sooner or later we will have to act. It’s just a shame that the number of problem gamblers will have to grow yet further before the government is forced to deal with a growing social problem." http://www.stopthefobts.org/campaign-slams-vote-on-roulette-machines/
Back in 2004, I worked as a Deputy Manager for a large high street bookmaker. I witnessed people spending a lot of money and many hours playing Roulette (the main game of choice by a large margin) on the FOBTs. Some punters believed they had a system, but the game of roulette is mathematically designed not to be beaten. The only way to beat roulette is to take advantage of a crooked wheel in a live setting. Unfortunately it is not possible to have a crooked wheel when the graphical display is for entertainment purposes only so the maths wins out every time, unless you are lucky, unless you win the gamble. The way it works is that a Random Number Generator (RNG) picks out your number when you press the 'play' button. You then see the spin, but your number is picked out already and anyone in the country pressing spin at that time gets that number. When I was involved it was a new number every second I think, but that does not matter. The house has a mathematical edge, so no tricks are necessary. Each day the shop I worked in made about £1000 profit between the four FOBTs, that is about £365,000 per year on that one shop and that was ten years ago.
There is also the issue of local authorities being unable to object to change of use planning applications to consider the proliferation of the high street against a growing number of bookmaker businesses appearing there. I believe it is vital that applications for bookmakers can be considered as a stand alone issue by the planning authorities. The applications may ultimately be approved, but let the community have a say before we are overrun. There are already more bookmakers on our high streets than newsagents or chemists. A walk down the high street will prove this to you. In Crook in County Durham there are three bookmakers within 50 years on one side street in the town centre and there is currently nothing that can be done from a planning strategy standpoint to address this. I bet (no pun intended) they all do well too.
I am not anti-gambling. In fact, I have enjoyed a game of Poker for many years and even have a podcast which discusses poker news. But I do not promote gambling. I never say 'you can win', what I say is, 'if you are going to play, do research and never bet more than you are happy to lose'. I am pro choice when it comes to betting, but I do think that these machines present a real risk for people and should be managed, particularly as the evidence mounts up at how often otherwise savvy punters get sucked into heavy gambling and, as so often happens, heavy losses.
I have some recommendations which I would like to share,
- Ban the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from the high street.
- Limit the spins to £2 rather than £100.
- Remove the option of playing with Debit/Credit Card.
Stop the FOBTS - Campaign for Fairer Gambling - http://www.stopthefobts.org
Gamcare provides support, information and advice to anyone suffering from a gambling problem http://www.gamcare.org.uk/
Fairer Gambling - http://fairergambling.org/