Thursday 1 November 2018

A final trick from the anti-FOBT spivs

My favourite fact about the campaign against fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) is that the term 'crack cocaine of gambling' - which is routinely used to describe them - was coined in the 1980s by Donald Trump when he was lobbying against the digital competition of his casinos.

How fitting it is that the anti-FOBT crusade - which is also run by a casino tycoon - should look to the Donald for inspiration. Fake news has been at the heart of the campaign from the outset, but the media have shown no interest in finding out the facts. As a result, a small but extraordinarily well funded campaign group has got away with claiming that problem gambling rates are doubling every few years (they haven't risen since records began in 1999), that the number of bookmakers has risen exponentially (it's gone down) and that the machines are almost uniquely associated with problem gambling (the Gambling Commission concluded in 2016 that 'there is no consistent evidence that particular gambling activities are predictive of problem gambling, after controlling for the level of involvement').

All of these claims can be checked within minutes. Journalists did not do so because, I suspect, they and their readers wanted to believe them. It was a good old-fashioned moral panic about a gambling product that most people have never played and know nothing about. What happens next is hundreds of bookmakers go out of business, gamblers migrate to the internet, and problem gambling rates stay the same (or get worse). Gambling advertising will be blamed and banned in short order. The whirlwind of destruction will go on.  

It is apt that this grubby debacle should end with the same kind of deceit that has characterised the last six years of campaigning. Tracey Crouch has today resigned as sports minister, supposedly because the government has delayed the stake reduction (from £100 to £2). Although this is being widely reported, it is not true.

The decision to lower the stake to £2 was announced in May. No date was given. In June, the government announced that implementation would take place in April 2020. Then, in the Budget on Monday, it was announced that the date would be pushed forward to October 2019.

At no point has the government ever suggested that it would be implemented as early as April 2019 (bookies clearly need ample time to prepare for this shattering blow) and yet the anti-FOBT crowd has somehow conned the media into believing that the switch to October 2019 represents a 'six-month postponement' (the Guardian) and a 'U-turn' (New Statesman) rather than the six month acceleration that it is.

How do Derek Webb and his boys do it? Hypnotism? Are they Jedis? Do they have incriminating photos of newspaper editors? It's quite remarkable that these people have fooled so many people about easily verifiable facts for so long.

Apparently Webb's next dragon to slay is online gambling, so expect everything you know about that to be wrong in five years time.

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