Which one should be the main target of anti-gambling campaigners?
People who are against gambling believe casino games and addiction go hand in hand. Many of them have come to live with the fact that bigger cities might have a couple of betting shops, but the spread of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and online casinos in the UK have brought the subject of gambling addiction back into the spotlight.
Nowadays, British gambling laws give local players a wide variety of betting options, both online and offline. According to a report released by the UK Gambling Commission, the industry generated gross revenue of GBP 6.3 billion, between April 2012 and March 2013. About GBP 1.5 billion of that amount comes from FOBTs alone, while the remote gambling industry is worth a more modest GBP 832 million.
So what is more harmful: playing FOBTs or gambling online? Both industries have grown over the past years, gaining more and more customers, and both have been facing a lot of criticism. We’re going to try and establish which one is the real “bad guy”, causing people to become addicted and spend all of their money on casino games.
The FOBT menace
How much UK gamblers lose on FOBTs:
• Great Yarmouth: 3,252 people lost an average GBP 721
• Norwich: 4,476 lost an average GBP 1,015
• Fenland: 3,180 lost an average GBP 92
• Waveney: 3,872 lost an average GBP 644
• West Norfolk: 4,976 lost an average GBP 412
• North Norfolk: 3,524 lost an average GBP 291
• Breckland: 4,364 lost an average GBP 470
• Suffolk Coastal: 4,156 lost an average GBP 353
• South Norfolk: 4,120 lost an average GBP 249
• Broadland: 4,204 lost an average GBP 139
In order to answer this question, we have to know all the relevant details. While most people have heard about FOBTs, many of them might not know exactly what they are. Simply put, they are touch-screen electronic gambling machines which offer a wide variety of casino games.
The number of machines across UK has skyrocketed over the last decade. At present, there are more than 33,000 FOBTs across Britain and nearly every betting shop has a few. A player with some money in his pocket will easily come across one of these machines on his way home and is likely to give in to the temptation.
The high-speed, high-stake betting terminals are often confused with regular fruit machines placed in pubs, but the biggest difference between the two is that FOBTs are high-stake, high-speed machines. Also, they offer pretty much every game a gambler’s heart could desire, including blackjack, roulette, poker or slots.
This means that players are allowed to spend up to GBP 100 every 20 seconds and they can bet over and over again. Of course, this means that they risk losing just as much money, just as fast. That adds up to a painful GBP 300 every minute.
This is what makes anti-gambling campaigners hate betting terminals so much and frankly, with news reports showing exactly how much players across the UK have been losing on the machines, you can see exactly where all the anger is coming from.
The virtual threat
Compared to the damage FOBTs are doing, internet gambling almost seems like child’s play. The process of playing at an online casino involves a lot more than just inserting your coins, pushing a few buttons and waiting for 20 seconds to see if you’ve won or lost. You have to register and add a credit card, you have plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the rules of the game and the website.
All this makes virtual gambling less accessible for children, while betting shops tend to let a lot of underage players in. In addition, police officers and bookmakers have admitted that FOBTs are being used to launder money, while working with banks and credit cards makes online casinos far less tempting for criminals.
There is online one thing that can make virtual gambling sites seem more appealing, and that’s the fact that many of them offer mobile versions, giving players the possibility to play on the go, whenever they like. But one might argue that the free bonuses and promotions offered by these web services make up for some of the losses.
It is true that online casino games can also lead to addiction, just as any other form of gambling. They just don’t seem as harmful as betting terminals, especially with the increased popularity on social gaming, rather than real-money gambling.
Which one’s worse?
So between the two, which one would you consider worse? Online casinos are strictly regulated. They promote fair gambling, offer bonuses and have a system in place to detect underage gamblers. FOBTs, on the other hand, make it easy for players to lose a lot of money in a short period of time, are often used by drug dealers for money-laundering and are found in places where minors may sometimes have access to. The answer to our question seems clear.
And it’s not just anti-gambling campaigners who have realized the danger of FOBTs. Politicians have spoken out against them, proposing changes to the current laws to limit their numbers and reduce the maximum stake from GBP 100 to a smaller amount.
Even the betting industry has announced certain measures to help battle gambling addiction and calm the spirits a bit. However, the public is expecting some very clear measures on the government’s part, as the fate of FOBTs in the UK should be decided this autumn. Curious to find out what the future brings? Stay tuned to GamingZion.