Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The war on gambling: phase two

The Times is strangely puritanical about sugar and gambling. You'd hope that a newspaper so obsessed with these issues would familiarise itself with the basic facts and yet its reporters and columnists have made mistake after mistake from day one. If you relied on The Times for information you would think that the number of problem gamblers doubles every few years, whereas it has remained low and flat for twenty years. 

The Times is far from being alone in misreporting gambling statistics but, along with the Guardian, it seems to have made it a personal mission to get rid of the dreaded fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). 

You know the rhetoric: crack cocaine of gambling, £100 every twenty seconds, casinos on every high street, etc. Well, that all came to an end on April 2019 when the maximum stake was slashed to £2, thereby making games with a 1:1 payout unplayable to most punters. 
From the media coverage between 2012 and 2018, you would think that FOBTs were almost the sole cause of problem gambling. Certainly, they were portrayed as the main cause. One of Derek Webb's pressure groups, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, asserted in 2013 that...
‘FOBTs is [sic] the only gambling activity significantly and positively associated with disordered gambling’
Has a de facto ban on this alleged scourge pacified the campaigners who swore on a stack of Bibles that they were 'not anti-gambling'? Has it reduced the number of problem gamblers or significantly reduced the amount of money that is 'lost' to gambling? Reader, it has done none of these things. As I predicted in 2018, it has instead led to open season being declared on gambling, starting with raising the age at which you can play the Lottery as the hors d'oeuvres for a no-holds-barred review of all gambling regulation that has been described as a 'reformers' shopping list'.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs has become the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling-Related Harm. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has morphed into Clean Up Gambling, still funded by Derek Webb and fronted by Matt Zarb-Cousin, but with a much wider remit. You will hear no more about FOBTs being the only gambling activity that is 'significantly and positively associated with disordered gambling'. 
The Times has also moved swiftly on to the next phase. There is not a hint in today's editorial that the banishing of FOBTs has reduced the amount of gambling-related harm or done any good at all. On the contrary, it suggests that things are getting worse, as they always are when people are looking for new dragons to slay. 

As betting shops close and online gaming takes its place, the old adage that the house always wins is truer than ever.

Is it? Maybe we shouldn't have closed all those betting shops then (1 in 8 have gone since 2017).

Last year total losses for British gamblers ballooned to £14.4 billion.

No, they fell slightly to £14.2 billion, but who cares about facts when there's a crusade to win? The big losers between 2019 and 2020, as expected, were the bookies who saw their revenue drop by £750 billion, but this was nearly all offset by gains in other areas, particularly adult gaming centres and online. 
Still, 4,000 people lost their jobs in bookmaking last year so you can't say the anti-FOBT measures had no effect at all. 

There is no obvious endpoint to this new war on gambling so expect the bans, lies, destruction and ignorance to continue indefinitely.

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