The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has expressed its relief that Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are to be reviewed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, having campaigned for the review since 2011.
In a joint statement, it has also conveyed relief that the UK government will “finally” investigate the integrity of online gambling advertisements.
Upon the announcement that the gambling industry will undergo major scrutiny, Minister Tracey Crouch said: “This will include a close look at the issue of FOBTs and specific concerns about the harm they cause, be that to the players themselves or the local communities in which they are located.”
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has been vocal in campaigning for a restriction on the number of FOBTs in each shop, as well as reduction on their maximum stakes from £100 to £2, and the spin frequency to reduce from every 20 seconds to 60 seconds. It believes that the implementation of these regulations will bring the betting machines in accordance with the three main aims of the Gambling Act 2005: “Preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder, or being used to support crime”; “ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way”; and “protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.”
Derek Webb, founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, states: “Our campaign has always been evidence based. In the last triennial review DCMS made the mistake of relying on Gambling Commission advice which incorrectly claimed that FOBTs posed no risk to two of the three licensing objectives.”
Webb claims that the Commission’s lax regulations on the reporting of criminal damage to FOBTs has also led to a culture of violence in betting shops. “Social responsibility covers far more that just prevention of harm. It also includes health and safety of staff. It should also include a commitment to providing local authorities, who have enforcement duties under the Act, with fair and open access to all relevant information on betting shop operations.”
Webb also comments that the Responsible Gambling Trust is prioritising research, education and treatment, and neglecting prevention: “It will not contemplate gambling participation reduction as a proxy for gambling harm reduction. The national strategy, designed by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, falsely implies that the Commission ‘statutory framework’ requires it to consider the ‘freedom of the individual’, meaning that all prior Commission advice to DCMS has been based on a false premise.
“This review, by focusing on location, accessibility and impact on communities as well as problem gambling, clearly has FOBTs in mind and the view of Newham Council and the 92 other Councils backing their call for a cut in FOBT stakes to £2 must now be heard by the Government.”
Furthermore, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling claims that recent televised online gambling advertisements have breached the principles of the 2005 Gambling Act. They claim that young and vulnerable persons are being tempted into online gambling through advertisements which offer enhanced odds, credits and bonuses. They claim that frequent winners are often restricted on the site, bonus and credit offers have terms and conditions which make it extremely difficult to evaluate the true equity of the offer, and there is always a turnover requirement before withdrawal. The ASA has indeed recently condemned a number of gambling adverts, which they claim are far from “fair and open”.
Webb Challenges the inaction of the UK Gambling Commission: "The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) keeps getting valid complaints about gambling ads and requires that these ads are not re-used. However, the creativity of the marketers means that similar ads pop-up soon after. The Gambling Commission claims that operators are ‘not doing enough’ but it is the Commission that is not doing enough as it has the power to fine operators and revoke licenses. The current system is failing under the not-fit-for-purpose Gambling Commission.
However, Webb maintains that the campaign is still trying to combat these advertisements by contacting the ASA directly: “We recently prevailed in a complaint to the ASA regarding an ad by the Senet Group, the bookmakers own advertising watchdog. The Senet ad was so blatantly wrong that the ASA did not even obtain input from the Group into the decision.”
The Founder of the Campaign further claims that the online gambling operators are refusing to acknowledge their obligations in advertising to a UK audience: “The majority of online gambling sites have located offshore under lax regulation and low taxes. The Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Group is taking the UK government to the EU courts to try to prevent having to pay a 15% point of consumption tax on losses from UK gamblers. The operators who want to avoid paying tax where the gambling harm results cannot claim any ‘responsible’ gambling credentials."
The restrictions that may be placed on FOBTs and gambling ads – if any – cannot be predicted. However it will be interesting to find out if these regulations will be based on the campaign’s recommendations, as stated on their websites (www.fairergambling.org and www.stopthefobts.org) in greater depth.