The UK government rebuffed calls for a ban on high-stakes gambling machines currently allowed in many betting shops under UK gambling laws.
Campaigners insisted that these machines, which accept wagers as high as GBP 100 and offering prizes of GBP 500, are highly addictive and present a serious problem. Leading the opposition was Campaign for Fairer Gambling, enlisting the support of former addicts, psychologists and opposition politicians.
According to critics these fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) were authorized without a proper evaluation of their impact on problem gambling. They have therefore been calling for high-stakes machines to be relegated to casinos, while mandating a GBP 2 stake cap for those placed in betting shops.
Campaigner Matthew Zarb-Cousin, himself a former gambling addict, voiced the aforementioned concerns when he declared: “What we’ve seen here is what looks like an addictive product, a harmful product to the consumer, that’s been allowed to go onto the market without knowing how harmful that product is.”
While these terminals do not offer patrons the possibility to engage in internet play, opponents believe that they may be more addictive than British internet casinos. Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins chided the government for its perceived inaction, even going as far as calling these machines the “crack cocaine of problem gambling”.
As it was to be expected, industry representatives downplayed critics’ concerns, insisting that the main activity of patrons is still to bet on sports in UK betting shops. Betting company Ladbrokes spokesman Ciaran O’Brien highlighted this point by comparing the average spending of 7 pounds on FOBTs against the money spent on a typical betting slip, which stood at 8.40 pounds.
While promising action if firm evidence ever supported claims of harm, Culture minister Hugh Robertson firmly rejected attempts to force the government to act based on anecdotal evidence. He also pointed to an ongoing investigation by the Responsible Gambling Trust, a supposedly independent charity, preferring to wait for its findings before taking any action.
“I very much hope that the major research project that is being undertaken will give us the necessary evidence that we need and absolutely, once that is proved, the government will act,” stated Robertson.
Taking into account the immense tax revenues coming from these gaming machines, it is no secret that the government would very much like to delay action as long as it is politically feasible to do so. Adding to it the fact that a recent report by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee suggested that local authorities should have the power to allow more than the current limit of 4 machines per betting shop, the government is not very eager to kill a cash cow.