Fixed Odds Betting Terminals have been dubbed the crack cocaine of betting, having destroyed thousands of lives over the past few years and becoming the topic of heated public debate. On Thursday DCMS has finally ruled that the stakes on the highly addictive machines be cut from a staggering £100 every 20 seconds to £2. The ‘B2’ machines exist in betting shops around the country and are a staple product for the industry, a large proportion of their profits depend on the income from these machines.
While the government ruling comes at the end of a bitter argument between Prime Minister Theresa May, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock and Tracey Crouch, it is still weak in some key areas. For years myself and others have campaigned for gambling reforms in this country. My father David, 61, spent time in prison after concealing his gambling habit. He stole £53,000 from his employers after making his way through a destructive rollercoaster of payday loans, bank loans, credit cards and borrowing. He even remortgaged the family home in secret to keep his addiction from us. I do not blame the industry for his addiction but know that the addictive nature of their products lured him in and he unfortunately became addicted.
Firms pounded his inbox with thousands of e-mails enticing him to bet while he was behind bars and some even sent premium rate text messages to him in a bid to bring him back to gamble with them. This harassment of gamblers through non-stop advertising on TV, radio and online is insidious and needs to stop.
We are taking gambling addiction off the high streets and sending it online. The government has missed a trick in its regulation reforms. The Gambling Commission last year reported that online gambling was a growing area and that particularly 18-24 year olds would suffer the most as this area continued to grow. Reports showed us how advertising techniques used by the industry could entice youngsters into betting from a young age, further acclimatising them to their products ready to make them long term customers.
According to the charity GambleAware, 50% of all gambling is now conducted online. Its report from summer last year also showed that young men who are unemployed were most at risk from developing a gambling problem through the internet. I have had countless social media adverts targeted at me because I’ve been talking about gambling. I have seen how the industry uses these ads, which are open to the public to entice young people who are not of gambling age into games with fascinating cartoons. The government should put its foot down and have these enticements stopped.
There was a 600% rise in gambling adverts between 2007 and 2014, according to research by Ofcom. I have no doubt that their pervasiveness, links to football games and heavy sponsorship of sports matches will encourage a new generation of gamblers, once FOBTs are no longer the gambling machines of choice. With this decision the governmenthas assessed actual harm rather than potential for harm, and has taken a long time to come up with its toothless recommendation that the industry should run its own responsible gambling campaign.
Successive governments have failed gambling addicts, it is after all the Labour administration who deregulated this industry in the first place. A leisure industry like gambling should not be able to take wreck family life. It should not be able to dominate the high streets or the internet. The industry is under scrutiny now and this regulation is only the start of what I hope will be a raft of strict measures to ensure gambling no longer causes misery in this country.