Ireland to ban FOBT machines

Written by Professor Jim Orford on .

The Irish Government has made clear its intention to make Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) illegal in its new gambling legislation. In July it published its Gambling Control Bill 2013 in which it clearly states (on page 53) that no gambling licence will be issued for ‘any device that is or is capable of being a fixed odds betting terminal’. If any device is found to be being used as an FOBT, the licence will be revoked, the device impounded, and the licence holder charged with an offence which, if proved, would result in a fine and/or imprisonment. There is probably at least a year to go before the Bill becomes an Act and no doubt sections of the gambling industry will be lobbying hard between now and then. Meanwhile they have a free hand under the existing 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act.

Quite apart from the FOBT issue, there are some interesting general differences between how gambling is legislated for, regulated and licensed in Ireland compared to the situation in Britain. For a start, the lead government department in Ireland for gambling is the Department of Justice and Equality, which perhaps reflects a different overall perspective on gambling than the one taken by the British Government where the lead department is of course now the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (although previously the Home Office, until the New Labour Government changed it). The word ‘control’ in the title of the new Bill in Ireland is also interesting, as are the six principles on which it is stated (in Section 2) that policy directions are to be based. The first two in the list refer to ‘The protection of society generally from the ill-effects of gambling’, and, ‘The maintenance of social cohesion’; and ‘The protection of vulnerable persons’ is the third. The fourth, fifth and sixth, admittedly, refer to ‘Securing and maintaining consumer choice’, ‘The protection of State revenues’, and, ‘The protection of innovation and technology’, but it is perhaps telling that they are given a lower position in the order than those principles which imply that society and the vulnerable need protecting from gambling harm. Also of interest is the very different way in which it is proposed that gambling be licensed and regulated. Rather than setting up a regulatory body ‘at arm’s length’ from government, like the Gambling Commission in Britain is supposed to be, and giving responsibility for licensing to local authorities, as in England and Wales, the proposal is that licensing be kept in-house, with the Minister as the sole authority for both licensing and regulation, assisted by an Office of Gambling Control Ireland (OGCI) – note the word ‘control’ again – set up by the Department of Justice and Equality and located within the Department.

Perhaps I am being naïve here, but I do have the impression that the need to control gambling in the interests of the public good is being taken more seriously in Ireland than in Britain. The language used in the Irish Gambling Control Bill, the general approach being taken to regulation and licensing, and the way in which the lesson has been learnt from Britain’s lack of precaution about high stake FOBT gambling machines, give me this impression.

On the other hand there is much in the Bill that suggests that Ireland may, like Britain, be moving in a more permissive direction; for example, it is proposed that gambling advertising be given the go-ahead, and there are many places in the Bill were it is proposed that the Minister be given the power to make changes without requiring new legislation.

An acknowledgement: Many thanks to Brian Lynch, Addiction Counsellor, Specialising in Problem Gambling & Policies, for drawing my attention to the Irish Bill and for giving me his perspective on it.

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Comments (10)

  • Brian Lynch Permalink

    Although some of the language and proposals in the Gambling Control Bill Ireland seem, in sections, contradictory, it is refreshing to see that the Irish Government have learned from some of the harsh lessons learned by the UK experience in the area of Gambling Legislation, not just with FOBTs but also in relation to where gambling machines are permitted.
    At present in Ireland it is rare that gambling machines are available in pubs for instance, and I am sure that if this was allowed to change there would be public discontentment, as these gambling machines destroy the ambiance and fun whilst people are socialising and having a meal.
    I feel the legislation has the scope to stop this dangerous form of convenience gambling from infiltrating public venues namely: Under Section head 49, No. 4: Orders to prohibit, etc., certain machines, games, etc. Restrictions:
    a) Limit by designating a place or places where these machines , are placed
    b) Limit by designating the category of premises in which certain machines can be located.
    And finally with the Government Minister being the sole authority for licencing of gambling, if a certain type of problematic gambling became apparent and into conflict with the certain policy directions such as
    a) The protection of society generally from the ill effects of gambling
    b) The maintenance of social cohesion
    In part 2 of the Bill (Head 5): Functions of the minister it states: “the minister is the sole authority for the licencing of gambling and he/she has exclusive authority to grant, review, revoke and revise any licence (including its terms and conditions) or any category of licence provided for in the Act.”
    So with the above in mind, I am hopeful that the Irish Government accepts how potentially harmful gambling can be for individuals and the wider society and intend to implement stringent safeguards to limit the potential risks.
    Brian Lynch, Ireland, Addiction Counsellor, speicalising in problem gambling & policies.

    about 3 years ago
  • Mark Permalink

    As someone who works in a betting shop in England and sees the highly addictive nature of these things quite rightly dubbed the ' crack cocaine of gambling' I applauded the Irish govt in taking action on these toxic machines.
    As a result of the betting shops companies greed for even more profits from these machines single staffing is now the norm in bookies over here despite staff and unions saying single staffing increased the risk of betting shop employees being subject to an increased risk of verbal and physical abuse. It was also argued someone may be murdered as a result of single staffing and despite a Ladbrokes manager getting murdered when working alone in May it still continues.
    FOBT machines are also the sole reason some shops over here open as early as 7am and some close at midnight!
    I hope the Irish govt go even further and ban single staffing and regulate operating hours if it is the same over in Ireland as the UK.
    These machines have ruined what used to be a great industry to work in.

    about 3 years ago
  • Dave Permalink

    I am also an employee of a major bookmaker who on an almost weekly basis 'pressurise ,encourage' staff to promote fobt gambling by running free tournaments to see which punter can make the largest profit . The window displays of their shops are saturated with colourful advertising stating that free play is available , however this 'free' play is only free if the gambler first stakes his own money. There are many clients in my shop who cannot walk past these machines they are addicted to the buzz there are 36 numbers on the screen so the odds of picking a winner are 35/1 it is possible to bet on red or black or odd or even or a combination of all. If a client spreads his stake over ten selections he has immediately backed a possible nine losers. As to the aspect of staff security I work for the company where the manager was murdered I believe he lay undiscovered behind the counter for almost two hours despite promises nothing has yet been done to tighten security, it is also a fact that if a single manning employee falls ill ie has a heart problem or a fall there are no procedures in place to get them help as no one will know they are in trouble. It is almost impossible to take a toilet break for obvious reasons anyone who raises objections to these working practises is told that's how it is and is reminded that there are large numbers of people out of work some might describe this as a veiled threat.

    about 3 years ago
  • r.c from paisley Permalink

    fobt i have seen the the grief they bring. the uk govermment will have too act now.
    :o

    about 3 years ago
  • oliver murphy Permalink

    I read your article and the comments with great interest. I have been addicted to poker machines from the age of 15 and as I have had 30 years of experience I think I am qualified to say my piece.
    There is a lot of evidence now being produced that shows that people addicted to poker machines (and thereby FOBTs) are in fact addicted to chemicals that are produced in the brain when a near win becomes a loss. That is to say, if your brain gets stimulated to point where you think you are about to win but end up with a loss, it is the chemical mix in your brain that will bring you back to the machine time and time again. So even when the addict wins, it doesn't matter. He will be back until the fix that the brain is looking for is received. There used to be a saying about being addicted to losing, I often heard it said and whilst it may not then have had the facts to back it up, it certainly applies to pokers and FOBTs.
    In fact there are plenty of pubs in Ireland with poker machines. I live in a town with 4 pubs and until recently there were 3 pokers and a slot. I know a guy who makes his living renting out pokers and slots. I also know a guy who took a sledgehammer to two pokers in a pub and they haven't been reinstalled since.
    I would urge the British government to ban these machines. I applaud the Irish Government for so doing. I will sign up on some of these petitions I see online. Thank you

    about 3 years ago
  • Ian Permalink

    This is the best news ever! The bookies should go back to being a good old proper bookie shop, as i have watched and seen lot's of people lose hundreds of money on them, go out to the bank or wherever and come back in time after time and lose all of their money in just a couple of hours!! Now that is crazy, stupid and they then start to get=abusive, aggitated, angry and in the end very skint!!!

    about 3 years ago
  • kidbeta Permalink

    This is not great news, many people in Ireland will be joining the dole queue. I can guarantee that there will be more people out of work than there are problem gamblers in Ireland and what does this mean for the problem gambler?? they will just move onto the casino or online to feed their habit so no one wins. The solution is simple in order to keep jobs and lower problem gamblers. If you go to a casino you need to provide your name, address, ID and all the other basic details, this should be the same with the FOBT's, currently at the moment you can set yourself a limit on how much you want to spend or how long you want to play it for or even both. The government should make a rule that you to sign up to play the FOBT's with exactly the same details you would need to enter a casino so the system knows who is playing then it must be made compulsory to set a daily limit on how much you can physically take out of your pocket and put in the machine, once its gone then its gone. In order for this to work all FOBT's must be interlinked so you can't go from betting shop to betting shop spending your limit in each shop, if your limit is £100 and you spend that in Coral, then you can not go into a William Hill and spend any more. Signing up should also include fingerprint verification as this is the only way that the system can decipher one customer from the next. A customer helpline can also be set up, monitoring peoples movements and contact them to offer advice if they are spending up to their limits on a daily basis and offer instant help. I have thought long and hard about this and being a bookie myself I do see both sides of it however there are many customers out there who gamble responsibly and do not let the FOBT's ruin their lives. The betting shops can not survive without the FOBT's, its all well saying that they were ok before the FOBT's came along but the cost of running betting shops have doubled, some tripled in the past decade. If you take them away then the government would need to slash costs such as licenses and utility bills to name a few, horse racing will suffer as many horse tracks rely on the levy that the betting shops provide. Anyway, I have written to my local MP about my idea, I have not explained everything on here as my idea is quite a few pages long however it does keep people in control and will solve problem gambling while keeping the betting shops open. My solution if developed would be able to help problem gamblers understand what a problem gambler is and could help them stop becoming an addict before it gets too bad.

    about 3 years ago
  • Bob Permalink

    @kidbeta It's because of the punters who let FOBTs ruin their lives and that of their families, that bookies couldn't survive without them. FOBTs fuel the unparalleled rise in the number of bookies in any one given street (5 in my local short high street). You're trying to defend the indefensible. These machines cannot be justified as entertainment, you as a bookie should know better. Unfortunately only people employed in bookies that were opened purely as an outlet for FOBTs, will be joining the dole queue.

    about 2 years ago
  • sean Permalink

    Fixed odds betting terminals also known as FOBTs are gaming machines found in betting shops which offer games such as roulette, blackjack and slots. The maximum stake is £50 (£100 if you ask betting shop staff for permission) and a bet can be placed every 20 seconds meaning that it is possible to bet £300 per minute. There are loads of betting shops all over the UK and most of these shops have 4 FOBTs in them.

    These machines are highly addictive and a menace to society. They feed on problem gamblers and also create new problem gamblers. I am calling on you to campaign against these machines to minimise the harms of gambling to our community.

    These games and stake limits belong in a casino. Betting shops are becoming mini casinos and they are popping up everywhere. Do you want a nation full of gambling addicts?
    The betting shops are self regulating responsible gambling at the moment but it is quite clear that these measures are extremely ineffective. They encourage gamblers to set spend/ time limits on machines which can easily be overridden or the gambler could just play the machine next to it. Self- exclusion does not work because it relies on staff recognising customers that have self- excluded rather than a sign in system which casinos have.
    I am campaigning for the government to consider actions to stop this menace to society. There are 3 options:
    £2 stake limits on machines- If these machines are purely for entertainment then there should be no need for larger stakes than this. The £100 stake is too high and feeds on gamblers losing control and betting more money than they should. Keep the machines safe and limit the stake to a maximum of £2.
    Opt-in scheme- Gamblers will have to register with betting shops to be able to use FOBTs. Betting shops will issue either swipe or pin cards which are used to log the player onto the FOBT to play. If you are not registered and do not have a card, you cannot play. Gamblers will be able to self-exclude from playing FOBTs, meaning that they will not be issued with swipe or pin cards to play. With the opt-in scheme there will be no need to change the stake limit on FOBTs.
    Complete ban of FOBTs- This will prevent the use of these highly addictive machines altogether and stop other people from becoming addicted to these machines in the future.

    Just remember, for every £1 lost in these machines, it is £1 that will not be spent in legitimate retailers such as grocery shops, restaurants and bars. The government will receive 20% VAT on all of this extra money that would be spent in legitimate retailers.

    Any campaign done by individuals will never be successful as people will not want to share the petition with others as it will expose themselves as gamblers which gamblers keep a secret 99% of the time. Your help is needed.

    It was a big mistake introducing FOBTs and now is the time to put things right. I believe Boris Johnson also shares these views.

    about 1 year ago
  • Jade Permalink

    Hi,

    I too believe the exploitation of FOBTs has gone way to far, but i was wondering do you know/have and info on the use of FOBTs abroad or even if other countriies use FOBTs?? any info would be greatly appreciated.

    about 1 year ago

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