MP’s have expressed remorse after the Gambling Commission ‘caved in to industry pressure’. Saying that the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT) are at the heart of Britain’s gambling problem and the stakes need to be reduced.
Sputnik: Should the stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals be capped at two pounds?
Carolyn Downs: There's currently a consultation taking place which the Gambling Commission (amongst a lot of other stakeholders) has contributed to. Of course, the issue is that the Gambling Commission is probably the most influential contributor to the debate about what should happen with stakes at fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), because of course, they regulate gambling. The gambling industry probably spends more on lobbying than any other industry, trying to influence MP's and how they make decisions. The industry is claiming that huge numbers of jobs will be lost in betting shops up and down the country if FOBT's are made unattractive to gamblers. The truth of that claim would need to be tested. I'm not convinced that that is actually correct, because before we had FOBT's, which is only really since 2007, betting shops were doing quite well, so there is really no argument to be made that putting these high stakes machines in is what has improved their status. If it is, then, it's doing it at the cause of a lot of people with gambling addictions.
Sputnik: Surely this is a strange mentality, almost like legalizing drugs so that doctors don’t lose out on work?
Carolyn Downs: Yes, exactly. There are four hundred thousand people with a serious gambling problem in the UK and only eight thousand of those were able to get treatment last year, because actually the treatment resources are so stretched that they're not even provided by the NHS. So we have an issue that problem gamblers can't get treatment. We also know that most of the profits from FOBT's in betting shops come from problem gamblers. Around about 50% of all the money put in are from problem gamblers, if not more. The betting shops and gambling companies aren't very keen on giving us the data, but it does look as though there is a serious problem. It's also partly to do with the rate of play. So, if you went to the casino and played roulette, you'd get one spin of the wheel every two minutes. Whereas, if you go to one of these machines, you get one spin of the wheel every twenty seconds, so you can place a hundred pounds every twenty seconds. Reducing it to thirty pounds every twenty seconds is still going to allow you to lose a lot of money very quickly. Whereas if you reduce it to two pounds every twenty seconds, the amount you are going to lose is considerably diminished. One of the biggest harms to families is the loss of income.
Sputnik: If stakes are cut, won’t those addicted to gambling just move their addiction onto the online sphere?
Carolyn Downs: Unfortunately, actually, we need a proper package of measures, because what will happen is that a number of problem gamblers will already be gambling online, which is available 24/7. In fact, other people who are not currently gambling online may, rather than going to seek help, may just transfer their gambling habit to online gambling.
Sputnik: Online gambling is perhaps even more difficult to control- and often the advertisements are made to be attractive to children. What could be done here, and how much of an issue is this?
Carolyn Downs: So I have a four year old grandson, and my daughter has an iPad. She downloads educational games onto the iPad for the child. He came along a few weeks ago and said "Mummy, can we download this game that has come up please?" Luckily, she actually properly had a look at it, because, although it had very attractive cartoon characters running around the screen, and looked like it was suitable for four-year-olds, it was actually a gambling game. She contacted Apple about this, to make a complaint that a children's educational game had gambling advertising on it, and they wouldn't do anything. You multiply that by all the children in country seeing these adverts that are designed to appeal to children. They've got cartoon characters. A lot of the games actually are not illegal in the first instance for children to access, because they don't gamble with real money, they gamble with a virtual currency. Now that's not regulated at all, in any way, shape or form. And yet, all of the data that we have, from many years of research, shows that if children become habitual gamblers at a young age, they are very likely in later life to become problem gamblers with a serious addiction. We know that from years of research in the UK, but even more so in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. And we're doing nothing about it at all. We don't even have any research in the UK, on the effect of gambling advertisements on children's gambling behaviours.
Sputnik: Is there anything the public should know before you go?
Carolyn Downs: I do think that the public should be aware that gambling is fun, and it makes a nice night out, but they should be aware that for some people it is very dangerous, and that gambling is an invisible addiction and it's very difficult to spot when your family member has an addiction to gambling, but they should be aware. If they have got a family member, perhaps always wanting to borrow money, or often going off to play on their computer and you don't know what they are doing. Ask some questions, find out, and try and get that person some help from Gamble Aware, or GamCare, who so provide a very good service. Unfortunately it is insufficiently funded.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.