Does Your Game Machine Turn You Into A Monster?

Responsible Gambling Trust - RGT

The debate is on about the purported subjective findings of RGT’s independent research stating that betting machines can instigate bad behavior. 

The Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) is under fire following its publication of the behavioral pattern of players who use gaming machines in licensed betting offices. The report was published on December 01, 2014 and will be presented to the gaming industry at the RGT’s annual ‘harm minimization’ conference scheduled for December 10.

The fully-independent research was carried out at the request of the government, the body who oversees UK gambling laws and members of the board of the gaming industry. RGT used industry-held data to help inform policy decisions. However the findings were criticized because it somehow seemed to put the betting operators in a very good light.

RGT’s aim was to demonstrate that it is possible to tell the difference between problem and non-problem gambling behavior. The researchers sought to acknowledge destructive machine play. They also offered solutions that would help to deter damaging behavior on gaming machines while not affecting those who did not show such destructive behavior.

What the findings show

Primarily, the RGT had seven reports showing several tendencies. The medium stake placed on a bet was GBP 5. Also, while stakes fluctuated throughout any given day, the stake size downright doubled by around ten at night. Not, surprising the poorer the areas, the smaller the stakes, a finding which is later used by critics to shed a negative light on the study.

Low income earners spend more
• Labour Party criticizes study
• Betting industry profits from bad behavior

Players usually lost between 70% and 80% of their bets in any 11 minute long session which amounts to GBP 7. Furthermore, the research highlighted that a low 3 % of sessions had the maximum £100 bet placed. It seemed that higher stakes impacted on the quality of decision-making quality for both winners and losers.

Sadly though, it showed that players, who made lower bets, whether it is through mobile betting or not, didn’t necessarily make intelligent decisions regarding their bets. What was also disturbing, the study revealed, was that lower-income players spent more of their income on play machines in a bookmakers’ than those with higher incomes.

Praises for the project

Marc Etches, RGT’s chief executive, was quick to laud the project as being “the first credible research into gaming machines, in licensed betting offices”. He went on to claim that the research clearly portrays an ‘understanding of these machines and the way people use them’.

He showed his admiration for the betting industry’s ability to withstand scrutiny. Etches believes that the report can and will help gamblers to adopt more responsible behavior and to shield gamblers who are more easily influenced from spiraling out of control.

Chairman of the independent review panel, Professor Alex Blaszczynski, also highlighted that the study was a collective feat between ‘multiple industry operators and independent researchers’ which makes it remarkable.

Critics have their say

However, far from considering the study as ‘ground-breaking’ or ‘revolutionary’, UK political parties such as the 93-member council led by the Newham council criticizes the study’s results as craftily supporting the betting industry, ‘instead of addressing wider issues related to problem gambling’ alleges Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales.

In its petition, the 93 local authorities’ coalition asks that the UK government reduce significantly the bets placed on gaming machines from GBP 100 to GBP 2. It claims that the study only just managed to ‘block any move that would hit the bookies where it hurt’.

Labour’s shadow minister for sport, Clive Efford, backed the council’s view by declaring that many questions were left unanswered in the study. He called for further research to allow everyone to “understand the patterns of behavior of people who have gambling problems”.

Efford reinforced the argument against the study by pointing out that the study validates that poorer gamblers have more gambling problems. He observes that this category of gamblers who play on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) no doubt contribute to a large amount of the bookmakers’ profits.

Betting industry fights back

Paul Darling, the chairman of the Association of British Bookmakers retaliated by saying the findings have generated complicated issues but that the gaming industry is dedicated to decreasing harmful gambling patterns.

Darling promised that the industry will modify opening hours, for example, in their UK poker rooms in problem areas. It plans to advocate responsible gambling behavior through ads and will provide ‘tools to help customers to stay within their own limits’. He also assured critics that there are more interactions between gambling operators, staff and punters, citing a 35% increase in self-exclusions to show for their efforts.

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