Thursday, 8 September 2016

Back on the crack

I wrote about the so-called 'crack cocaine of gambling' and the evidence-free campaign against it back in 2013. I've revisited the subject for a new IEA briefing paper with some updated stats.

I've also written about it for ConHome...

People who work for think tanks want to change the world one step at a time, but we are generally realistic. Those of us in favour of individual responsibility and free markets realise that a single piece of research is not going to change the climate of opinion overnight. We know that there are stubborn and persistent myths that need to be debunked over a long period of time.

And so, when I wrote a short discussion paper about the relatively niche subject of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) three years ago I didn’t expect to change the minds of people who hate gambling. I wasn’t expecting to link arms with the Salvation Army or find common cause with the lads at Stop the FOBTs. But I did hope that, in its own small way, it might make people think twice before describing these machines as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’. As I showed in that paper, the term was coined in the 1980s by Donald Trump (whatever happened to him?) to describe a video bingo game that he saw as a threat to his casino business.

Since then, virtually every form of gambling has been compared to crack cocaine by people who don’t like gambling. Scratch cards, horse-racing, casinos, lotteries, online gambling, slot machines, pokies – all of them have been described as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ at one time or another, and now it is the turn of FOBTs. The claim has never had any evidence to support it. It is nothing more than an overwrought campaigner’s slogan and yet no newspaper story about FOBTs is complete without it, usually featuring in the headline.

Returning to the subject for an updated briefing paper, I see that nothing has changed. Evidence that FOBTs are more addictive than other forms of gambling is still conspicuous by its absence, and the ‘crack cocaine’ meme continues to be casually inserted into every article that mentions them.

You can rest the rest here and download the paper here.

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