Monday, 14 May 2018

Insider spills the beans on fixed-odds betting terminals campaign

A remarkable article appeared in the Telegraph last week by Adrian Parkinson who, until recently, was one of the leading figures in Derek Webb's campaign against fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

Adrian Parkinson on the left in happier (?) times
Using Webb's fortune, Stop The FOBTs AKA the Campaign for Fairer Gambling have used a combination of big spending and intimidation to get their point across. Their point isn't very strong. FOBTs account for just 14 per cent of gambling spend in Britain, there has been no rise in problem gambling since they emerged in the early 2000s, and the claim that FOBTs are the 'crack cocaine of gambling' has never been supported by evidence.

If the public wrongly believes that both problem gambling and the number of bookmakers has been rising, it is a testament to the success of Webb's campaign. Anybody who challenges them on the facts, including academics who specialise in gambling research, is shouted down and slandered. Parkinson shouted as loud as anyone. He was part of the campaign almost from its inception, but has now turned whistleblower. It is is a strange experience to see him making the same factual points that he used to attack others for making.

The wheels on the FOBT bandwagon are greased in hyperbole, spin, misconstrued evidence and, worst of all, commercial jealousy. Some of which I am responsible for. It was easy to beat the bookmakers up over FOBTs – gambling is never popular with public opinion and always provides the kind of lines a journalist loves. I created some of those lines. That was all fine when trying to wake bookies up, but the Government has fallen for the spin and hyperbole – hook, line and sinker.

At the eleventh hour, Parky now acknowledges that the bookies have brought in various forms of self-regulation and harm reduction which outclass many of their competitors in the sector.
Since I turned whistleblower in 2012 that lax regulatory environment has ended. The Government has rightly imposed a string of measures to provide better player protection, the most important being the limited introduction of card-based play. The ability to track and monitor player activity on gaming machines is not something to be resisted.

.. The bookmakers have woken up to this and they are the ones now driving this use of technology. Unlike their competitors in the casino and adult gaming sectors, who recruited me to work for them, the bookmakers now offer a wide range of responsible gambling measures that offer more control to players and more insight into behaviour. Staff have now been extensively trained in how to manage FOBTs and to intervene when needed. None of this is enough, but bookmakers are now the drivers of responsible gambling initiatives.

I quit the Stop the FOBTs campaign for several reasons, some of them personal, but if I had stayed I would be expected to support the proposed £2 stake limit. Now. I can’t, because the call for £2 is not based on any evidence to support the argument that it will reduce pathological problem gambling. It won’t. The £2 figure is one based on removing casino roulette from betting shops, much to the satisfaction of the other sectors – those I used to work for.

Reducing the stake has always been a red herring. As opponents of FOBTs now admit, a £2 stake will make the machines 'unplayable'. The campaign isn't called Stop The FOBTs for nothing. And if FOBTs are removed from the high street, punters will move online, thousands of jobs will be lost and horse-racing will lose millions of pounds.

Problem gambling is a serious issue, but FOBTs are not the sole cause of it. The vast majority of customers gamble safely and responsibly – not just on roulette but on the vast array of games available on FOBTs – many already capped at £2 and under. Pathological problem gamblers will simply be pushed either online or to casinos and arcades – the Government is shifting the problem rather than allowing bookmakers to deal with it head on.

For those determined to put the final boot in – step back from the campaign and media generated hype and think hard about the impact of this decision. I have.

Better late than never.

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