Representing Gambling Watch UK, Jim Orford spoke last Monday (February 11th) at a meeting to launch a campaign to remove high-stake gambling machines from betting shops. These are the machines, commonly known as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and known to the Gambling Commission as B2 gambling machines, which allow stakes of £100 a time on the fast-moving casino-style games played at a machine terminal (the maximum stake on other types of gambling machine is £2). The meeting was held in the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons and was hosted by David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, who is one of a number of MPs who have been expressing concern about the increasing concentration of betting shops, and the harmful effects of FOBTs in particular, in their, mostly lower income, constituencies.
The campaign is being very effectively spearheaded by a group who are calling themselves the Fairer Gambling Campaign – see, for example, a large spread in Monday's Guardian newspaper. At the head of the campaign is a young man, Matt Zarb-Cousin, who became addicted to FOBTs at the age of 16 and who learned his considerable campaigning skills whilst working as a parliamentary researcher. Jim's contribution to the meeting was twofold: first, to briefly summarise how it is that gambling can be addictive, and how machine gambling, particularly fast, continuous, high-stake roulette gambling, can be highly addictive; and, secondly, to summarise the results of the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey, including his own secondary analysis which suggests that nearly a quarter of all takings from FOBTs come from the playing of people with gambling problems.
Removal of such machines from betting shops altogether would probably require new legislation, so the aim of the campaign is to require the maximum stake to be reduced to £2 and the interval between plays to the increased, both of which are within the powers of the regulator, the Gambling Commission, to change. There was strong support for the campaign at the meeting which was attended by a number of MPs and their researchers, local councillors concerned about the effects of FOBTs in their areas, members of faith groups who have been consistent critics of these machines, and a number of journalists.