Tuesday August 7,2012 : MASSIVE BETTING ON F.O.B.T.s ATTACKED
Daily Mail newspaper claims that Britons could be wagering as much as GBP 46 billion a year on machines in betting shops
Britain's Daily Mail newspaper appeared to be embarking on another anti-gambling crusade over the weekend, using published financial results from Ladbrokes and William Hill to calculate that Britons could be wagering as much as GBP 46 billion a year on casino games on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in high street betting shops.
The article appears just ahead of a planned Channel 4 ‘Dispatches' television program on a similar topic scheduled for screening Sunday night.
Under a banner headline the article reports on "The £46 billion cost of Britain's roulette machine addiction," and interviews political and problem gambling experts, along with poignant accounts of gamblers in trouble.
The Mail's starting point is the half year financial reportage of Ladbrokes and William Hill; the former declared GBP 5.9 billion was wagered on FOBTs in their 2,137 outlets across the UK, whilst William Hill reported that GBP 6.6 billion was staked on electronic Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in its 2,371 betting shops from January to June this year.
"By comparison, William Hill said GBP 1.3 billion was wagered on over-the-counter bets on sports including horse racing and football over the same period. Ladbrokes said GBP 1.2 billion was wagered on their over-the-counter bets in the first half of this year. The chains revealed they made more than GBP 350 million in net profit in the same period from FOBTs”, the newspaper reports.
Using the FOBT numbers, the Mail calculates that for the whole of 2012, on just over half the FOBT machines in the UK market, the two bookmaking firms took in GBP 25 billion in bets.
"Even allowing for the fact that machines in other bookmaking chains might not have as many people playing them, the rapid and continuing rise in popularity of FOBTs means that the total for the year across the industry could be as much as GBP 46 billion," the newspaper concludes, noting that .
other major bookies like Coral and Paddy Power do not reveal how many FOBTs they operate or the amount of money wagered on them.
The Mail claims that the numbers "have shocked anti-gambling campaigners and MPs, who have asked for tighter regulation of FOBTs."
Gareth Wallace, a policy adviser for the Salvation Army, told the newspaper: "Studies have shown they [FOBTs] are eight times more addictive than other forms of gambling." He did not reveal his source for that statistic.
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman MP, currently the Shadow Culture Secretary, will apparently admit to the Despatches program that her party was wrong to relax gambling laws whilst in power.
Harman condemned the Labour Party's Gambling Act for promoting an increase in bookies with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
"I think we were wrong. We have made a mistake and we need to do something about it," Harman said. "If we had known then what we know now, we wouldn’t have allowed this."
Harman said she had been driven to speak out after hearing stories from people who have become hooked on FOTBs, which allow punters to stake GBP 100 at a time on roulette, blackjack or poker games in the hope of winning GBP 500. She added that FOTBs were ‘bringing casinos right into the high street’, and the law should be changed.
Labour MP David Lammy said: "I want tighter regulation. If you look through the windows of bookies, all you see is young people losing money on these machines."
Clive Efford, Labour's Shadow Minister for Sport, confirmed his party was reviewing gambling laws, but a Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: "The Government has no plans to amend the Gambling Act unless there is clear evidence of a need to do so."
Labour Party politicians are likely to be in conflict with the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which recently called for more gaming machines in bookies to prevent clusters of betting shops in high streets. Its proposal is to allow local councils to license each betting shop and decide the number of machines allowed in each outlet.
The newspaper explains that FOBTs are either slot or virtual roulette machines with maximum pay-outs of GBP 500 per bet. The slot machines allow a spin every three seconds, and customers can wager as much as GBP 2 per bet. The virtual roulette machine allows three spins per minute and can swallow up to GBP 18,000 in one hour on a maximum bet of GBP 100 per spin.
The machines offer better chances for success than other types of gambling. On average, betting shops keep 8p for every GBP 1 wagered, as 92p is given back as winnings. On the virtual roulette, the payout rate is 97.3 per cent.
With over-the-counter betting, the average payout rate is 85 per cent. Gambling industry figures show that each FOBT machine earns a betting shop just under GBP 1,000 per week.
A spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) told the Mail: "There is no evidence of a causal link between electronic gaming machines and problem gambling."
He added that betting shops are highly regulated, with established and effective security procedures, and work very closely with police. "A shop is only opened when there is a business case to do so," he noted.
A spokesman for Ladbrokes said: ‘FOBTs are popular products because they offer high pay-outs to customers, and there is no evidence to suggest that they are addictive."
The Daily Mail exposure gives considerable space to the report by the ‘Dispatches' television investigative journalist, which leans toward the negative aspects of gambling, especially in low-income areas; the claimed addictive nature of FOBTs and the political implications of the issue.