Wednesday 4 December 2013

Tom Watson on fixed odds betting terminals

Tom Watson's Guardian article about fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) is largely free of the numerous outright lies that I discussed in my IEA paper on the subject. That's more than can be said of the Daily Mail's report, but Watson's analysis still contains plenty of misleading material.

David Cameron must stand by his pledge to me at prime minister's question time that the government will take a "proper look" at FOBTs.

By "taking a proper look", he means doing what Watson wants—reducing the stakes by 98% from £100 to £2. He does not contemplate the possibility that the government has already taken a look and found little more than a modern day moral panic.

The government is making a huge mistake in maintaining the status quo. There are several reasons why it reached the wrong decision. Powerful lobbying by the gambling industry has ensured that this Whitehall review of FOBTs was watered down. The key issues weren't explored adequately because FOBTs were considered alongside other gaming machines that are already capped at £2 or lower per spin.

On the contrary, DCMS looked at the "key issues" and concluded - rightly, IMO - that “there is no clear evidence to indicate whether B2 gaming machines have had any significant effect on the level of problem gambling in Britain” and that “without such evidence there is a risk of introducing disproportionate and untargeted regulation that could cost jobs.”

Another influential body, the Responsible Gambling Trust, is expected to publish data this month into gaming machines. Its much-delayed report isn't expected until September 2014. 

It's not "much-delayed". It was understood from the outset that it would take 18 months.

But this organisation is funded by the gambling industry and can't be relied upon for unbiased research. 

Get your shot in early, eh Tom? There's nothing like poisoning the well before the research has even been published.

Besides, the trust's work does not touch upon the addictive nature of FOBTs.

My understanding is that it will.

The industry has also fought a furious lobbying campaign, which has involved attempts to silence anyone who criticises FOBTs.

That's news to me and Watson cites no evidence for it. As for "furious lobbying", the anti-FOBT campaign is being run by a multi-millionaire casino entrepreneur via Prime Table Games (trading as the Campaign for Fairer Gambling). They have spent a huge amount of money on the campaign, they had a heavy presence at all the party conferences and they even sponsored the Lib Dems' party conference. This is my pass for that event...

By a remarkable coincidence, it was at this very Lib Dem conference that delegates voted to take action against the FOBTs, hence today's parliamentary debate.

Now, maybe Prime Table Games are acting out of the purest of motives. Maybe it's not just a grudge match between Derek "rather than sue I backed a campaign to make my point" Webb and the bookies. But it seems to me that MPs like Tom Watson are being played like a cheap fiddle.

When those with power and influence go into overdrive then I know from experience this is usually a good indication that MPs are on to something.

Any business would defend itself against when Big Government lays into them. What an extraordinary admission from Waston—that he knows when he is "on to something" when he threatens legitimate businesses, puts jobs at risk and attacks popular leisure activities.

Just consider the millions bookmakers have to lose from any reforms.

Is it now official Labour party policy to make laws which make businesses less profitable?

For a start, just consider the evidence on the addictive nature of FOBTs. Findings from the 2007 British gambling prevalence survey revealed that these machines, which have transformed bookies into high-street casinos, have a stronger association with problem gambling than any other activity.

I will admit that I can't remember what the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey said (although I find it hard to believe that the serious academics who write these reports would make such a bold claim), but I am familiar with the most recent (2010) British Gambling Prevalence Survey. The 2010 survey found that 13.3 per cent of regular FOBT players were problem gamblers. This is higher than the rate found amongst the general population, of course, but it is lower than the rate found amongst those who gamble on dog races (19.2 per cent), non-sports events (13.8 per cent), casino games (13.9 per cent), online slot machines (17 per cent), spread betting (10.7 per cent) or who play poker in a pub or club (20.3 per cent).

So why did the Gambling Commission, which was set up to regulate gambling in Britain, fail to include this evidence in its advice to ministers?

Because it's obsolete, if it exists at all?

All the government had to do was read the testimonials from problem gamblers to realise the harm FOBTs are doing to communities.

Ah, anecdotal evidence! The cornerstone of the anti-FOBT campaign. You can, of course, find examples of hard luck stories from problem gamblers who play every sort of game. It is the nature of the problem gambler to have problems from gambling, whether in a casino, on the race-track, or on the internet.

One reformed gambler, James Petherick, has even set up his own petition through to reduce the maximum stakes on FOBTs.

309 people have signed it at the time of writing. Hardly a mass movement. Over 20,000 have signed the Save Our E-cigs petition on the same site. Which one are you concentrating on this week, Tom?

Many players are drawn in by the promise of huge cash wins. But the odds are heavily in favour of the bookies and if you play them long enough you are guaranteed to lose.

Well spotted, Tom. How unlike every single form of gambling ever invented. It's almost as if—what's the expression?—the house always wins. Well spotted indeed.


Guido has noticed a touch of hypocrisy about Watson's anti-FOBT position...

Worth noting that Watson’s name is on last year’s Culture, Media and Sport select committee report on gambling, which drew some very different conclusions. Indeed, the committee Watson sat on recommended that the rules regulating FOBTs be relaxed:

“We therefore recommend that local authorities be given the power to allow betting shops to have more than the current limit of four B2 [FOBT] machines per premises”

Not like Watson to waste an opportunity for select committee grandstanding…


Unknown said...

Chris, I hate you. I am a fully paid up Labour Party member and yet on this you are right. Me IEA...Aaarghhh.

That petition: I have watched it, many of the 300 are from Australia, Canada, South Africa, Thailand. The figure for the UK is far lower.

You missed the attack that said the bookies want to silence opposition. Well I have had a libel letter from Prime Table Games?Fairer Gambling/Derek Webb, as has Mark Davies

You could be next, I am told there are "lots" more.

More - Tom attacks lobbyists - well check the SEC submission of Galaxy Gaming, they pay loads to Prime Table Games each month, the patents are the security and the money comes from UK casinos as the main asset is the British rights to three card poker,

42% of FOBT users also bet in casinos, they bet on threes card brag on fobts = no money for PTG, in casinos they bet on three card poker, the licence stream needed for Galaxy Gaming as if they don't get it they can reduce the payments to PTG.

Worse still - the UK casinos can deal three card brag, there is no UK/EU patent protection for games, it is only copyright.

nisakiman said...

Is it now official Labour party policy to make laws which make businesses less profitable?

Hasn't that always been official Labour party policy?

Smoking Hot said...

Labour screwed up the gaming industry and now it's a total mess. They allowed betting shops to become mini casinos. Make no bones about it ... the slot machines in betting shops are hard gambling when compared to the amusement arcades. You'll note the word 'amusement'? That comes from the fact that amusement arcades are in the entertainment business. Indeed their organisation is the British Amusement Catering Trade Association.

Betting shop casinos have been the death knell of the traditional amusement arcade. Arcades simply cannot compete against them. You'll find no £100 a bet slots in amusement arcades ... they are not allowed them! Sure FOBTs have their place but that's in a casino but not a betting shop or indeed amusement arcades.

Another thing is the slots are supposed to be random in their operation. That means that mathematically one should have the same chance of winning the jackpot every time you play it. l personally would not go near a British slot machine ... ever! Another thing l wouldn't touch (even with a 10ft bargepole) is online gaming.

My profession? ... Casino Slots Consultant for 30+ years!