Is the UK gambling problem a geographical one?
It is acknowledged that there is a UK gambling problem but is it a geographical one? The UK Gambling Commission compile and publish all manner of gambling statistics but does that help?
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) produced a report which dammed the use of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT’s) in betting shops.
The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) complained about the report and since then there has been much debate throughout. The ABB complained that the report was funded by the commercial rivals of the bookmakers, i.e. the the casino, arcade and pub industries. Was there a flaw in the way the APPG was set up in the first place?
The ABB have in no way accepted the report and the debate is now raging. Most of the arguments seem to have been surrounding Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. FOBT’s as they are now known. They have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling and have suffered damnation by many involved in the gambling industry, particularly the gambling problem help groups.
The UK Gambling Commission regulate gambling in the UK. They undertook a review with all sectors represented, except the Bookmakers who declined to attend. Almost concurrently with that, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published their review of stakes and prizes. The review concluded that FOBT machines do not comply with responsible gambling parameters, because the stakes can be set too high.
The result was the APPG concluding that the high stakes FOBT’s should be banished from the streets. That conclusion has not been accepted by all.
UK Gambling Statistics
The UK Gambling Commission publish gambling statistics compiled from surveys carried out. They include demographics for people have gambled during the past 4 weeks, those that played the National Lottery, those that gambled online. The results have been published for at least the last five years.
During the past year, around 50% of people had gambled during the past 4 weeks, of those around 20% played the National Lottery and around 20% gambled online. The results are well documented and show a good spread across all ages. The statistics are good for monitoring changes over the years. Those numbers of people playing the National Lottery have declined. Oddly the statistics do no really show the number of people gambling online in detail.
There is not really much to conclude about these statistics, especially regarding FOBT’s which, are not mentioned at all.
The UK Gambling Commission also publish statistics regarding the UK gambling problem for England Wales and Scotland. They do not specifically include gambling in betting shops. In England, it is estimated that 5% of people over 16 years of age have a gambling problem. The same statistic is 0.7% for Scotland and 1.1% for Wales.
The Geograhical Gambling Problem
According to published statistics the UK gambling problem does not vary much across the UK. I was therefore surprised to read an article by Matt Discombe from GloucesterLive which takes the argument to a new level, geographically.
The article claims that many betting shops in Gloucester could close if the Government curb FOBT terminals. Such would be the effect on betting shops they could cease to be profitable. Apparently there are no less than 18 bookmakers shops across Gloucester.
According to one local reformed gambling addict in Gloucester it was possible to spend £100 every 20 seconds on a FOBT terminal. That did change during 2014 when new rules required gamblers to inform staff if they wanted to bet more than £50 at a time. Gambling stakes can still pretty high though. It has been suggested by the APPG that the bets should be further limited.
The conclusion of the argument could be to limit each bet to just £2, according to the APPG.
ABB figures also show betting shops in Gloucester pay £2.4 million a year in taxation between them – including an average of £10,000 per shop in business rates that go towards funding local services.
An ABB spokesman also said: “Most problem gamblers use seven or more different gambling products. Seeking to ban or restrict any individual gambling product is clearly not the answer and will simply shift the problem to other areas”
“Tackling problem gambling is a challenge for the whole gambling industry and we need to move from a position where there is a nationally recognised ‘statistically stable’ level of problem gambling to one where problem gambling rates are decreasing.
“More work still needs to be done and betting shops will strive to help our customers gamble responsibly and to share best practice across the industry.”
Clearly there are concerns that the UK gambling problem might be geographical and curbing FOBT’s may just switch problem gambling to other areas. It is expected that a national solution is required to problem gambling to prevent gamblers from switching the areas where they play.
As for the arguments, for and against FOBT’s, limiting the stake is probably the only real solution.
The minutes of the September APPG meeting regarding FOBT’s have yet to be published. So the debate could still be raging on. The lack of involvement by the ABB is all very surprising.
Gambling statistics perhaps could include more information to detect geographical gambling hotspots. We say this but we know the Health Authorities do already input to the UK Gambling Commission so, they have probably got it covered. The UK Gambling Commission also interact with GAMCARE who run an excellent forum for gamblers who find themselves having problems. They also arrange counselling.