The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

FORUM: ‘Reject the crack cocaine of gambling...’

    Matt Zarb-Cousin of Stop the FOBTs, Campaign  For Fairer Gambling

    Published: 4 February, 2016

    CAMDEN Council were absolutely right to reject Paddy Power’s application for yet another betting shop in the borough. 

    More betting shops means more Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), the highly addictive roulette machines that have been labelled “the crack cocaine of gambling”. In 2015, more than £96m was put into the 289 FOBTs in Camden’s 80 betting shops, netting a ­profit for the bookmakers of more than £18m from the machines alone.

    FOBTs now account for around 55 per cent of bookmakers’ profits, netting the sector £1.6bn last year. Each betting shop is permitted four FOBTs, which allow the user to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds, so you can understand why so many shops open on the high street. This has led to ­clustering, with operators sometimes opening two shops within walking ­distance of one another.

    Research has shown FOBTs are the most addictive form of gambling, and the form of gambling that problem and at-risk gamblers use most frequently and lose the most on. In fact, research based on the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey found that losses from problem gamblers on FOBTs exceeded losses on several leading gambling activities combined.

    The close association between FOBTs and problem gambling is not surprising, given that betting shops are the only easily accessible gambling venue permitted casino games on machines that exceed £2 a spin. All other easily accessible gambling venues, such as bingo halls and adult gaming centres, have machines capped at £2 a spin. 

    So it is no coincidence that crime in betting shops far exceeds crime in other venues, with 1.25 police call-outs per betting shop last year compared to just 0.12 to bingo halls and 0.19 to adult gaming centres. As well as criminal damage, FOBTs are an easy target for money laundering, too.

    Whilst councils can now reject betting shop planning applications, the Gambling Act requires councils to “aim to permit” licence applications, and a weak regulator tends to back the bookmakers in disputes. That is why 93 councils, including Camden, supported a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2 a spin. 

    This was initially rejected, but the government is now required to reach agreement with the Local Government Association within six months. A stake reduction would reduce betting shop clustering and the gambling-related harm and disorder brought about by FOBTs.

    • Matt Zarb-Cousin represents Stop the FOBTs, Campaign For Fairer Gambling