Sunday April 6,2014 : U.K. GOVERNMENT TAKING A TOUGHER APPROACH TO F.O.B.Ts?
Prime Minister due to make a statement this week.
According to a report in the Guardian over the weekend, the British government is set to tighten up its operator requirements regarding fixed odds betting terminals in UK high street bookie shops.
The newspaper reports that Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, has taken a personal interest in the issue following extensive media and political debate on the high speed betting machines and the social implications flowing from their use.
The Guardian claims that Cameron has tasked government officials and regulator the Gambling Commission with "toughening up" the industry’s voluntary code of practice for FOBTs recently introduced following extensive coverage of the issue.
The code requires pop-ups when the punter has spent GBP250 or played for more than thirty minutes, and was introduced in February this year.
Cameron has now asked whether these limits are still too high, and wants the Gambling Commission to investigate this aspect as well.
The Guardian claims that since 2010, annual player losses to FOBTs has grown from GBP 1.3 billion to GBP 1.5 billion, and the machines now account for half of bookmaker's gross profits.
The proliferation of betting shops on Britain's high streets is also a matter of concern, with the newspaper reporting that bookies now account for 9 percent of high street floorspace, up from 4 percent in 2008. Betting shops are permitted to house four FOBTs, and the Guardian claims there are now 33,000 FOBTs in Britain.
Among Cameron's directions is an enquiry into betting shop clustering.
In the recent budget announcement, the British Chancellor imposed an additional 5 percent tax on betting machines, surprising bookies.
According to the Guardian, the prime minister is considering whether a strengthened code should be incorporated into the licence requirements as a mandatory rather than voluntary industry commitment. That could mean licence problems if betting shop staff fail to intervene in compliance with the code.
Another area troubling the prime minister is the alleged concentration of betting shops in deprived areas. This week data analysis firm Geofutures gave a copy of a report identifying areas with a high density of betting shops to the Guardian, noting that the most densely packed were London's Chinatown, Newcastle, Rotherham, and Bradford.
According to reports, Cameron is also poised to tackle the issue of the concentration of bookmakers in the poorest areas of the country, when he makes his announcement this week.
The newspaper also claims to have seen an internal FOBT research report from Ladbrokes, which found in April last year that punters played its FOBTs 4.8 million times, staking GBP 1 billion, over a single four-week period.
Alarmingly, 92 percent of sessions on FOBTs would not receive any warnings under the new code because the playing time was less than 30 minutes.
The Ladbrokes analysis shows that the average loss per "60-minute or over" session of roulette is a little more than GBP 93, well below the proposed GBP 250 at which warning pop-ups and staff intervention occur.
Approached by the Guardian for comment, the Association of British Bookmakers denied that it targeted poorer areas, and said it was "important that both the industry and government act on the basis of evidence".
"The new code of conduct was brought forward following extensive consultation with the industry, treatment providers and academics. It was from these discussions that the range of measures, which includes the introduction of voluntary limits and mandatory alerts, were agreed. The code itself has been described as ‘world leading'. We believe it will make a real difference to ensuring our customers gamble responsibly and in an informed manner," the Association claimed.