A much-trailed report into fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from the right-leaning think tank ResPublica has been slammed for “parroting” the line taken by the report’s paid sponsors the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFG).
The report published this week entitled ‘Wheel of Misfortune: the case for lowering the stakes on FOBTs’ called for the reduction of the maximum stake applicable for high-street gaming machines to £2.
This figure is in line with the long-standing calls from the CFG and the anti-FOBT lobby. The report stated in its conclusion: “This single step would bring regulation of these machines into line with common practice both in the UK and abroad, and would respond to widespread public demand and cross-party consensus.”
However, William Hill accused the report’s authors of being ‘all tank and no think’.
“It parrots the CFG line on £2 and doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that loss rates per hour are actually very similar on B2 and B3 games and in fact more volatile on B3 and average losses per session are higher on B3,” said William Hill’s head of corporate communications Ciaran O’Brien.
O’Brien added that a “proper think-tank analysis” of the correct policy response for gaming machines on UK high streets “should surely look at the independent research and the impact of a policy change both on problem gambling and the employment and taxation as well as knock on impacts on other sectors.”
“It would weigh up alternative policy options to achieve the right objectives and how and why,” he added.
The criticisms were echoed by the Association of British Bookmakers whose spokesperson Peter Craske, said that it “should be no surprise” that a report commissioned by the CFG used “dodgy stats and flawed research” in their attacks on the bookmakers.
“The Campaign have called for a relaxation in the law limiting the number of casinos in the UK and for tax cuts to support casinos,” he said.
Still, the addition of introductory comments in the ResPublica report from Chris Philip, Conservative MP and parliamentary private secretary to the Treasury, are a signal of a shifting tide, suggested Dan Waugh, partner at gambling consultancy Regulus Partners.
“The self-styled ‘free marketer’s’ dismissal of economic arguments for non-intervention seems particularly significant,” he said. “Given his official role, he may be assumed to have some influence on the Chancellor Philip Hammond and exchequer secretary to the Treasury Andrew Jones; though Philip did not suggest that he was articulating his department’s perspective.”
In his forward to the report, Philip said he welcomes the report’s call for greater consistency and consensus” in the regulation of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
“Across all political parties, there is a strong feeling that these gambling machines are having a detrimental effect on our high streets.”
He continues: “Crucially, it demonstrates how this damage could be mitigated by smarter regulation of gambling machines, by reducing their maximum stake to £2 per spin.”
He then suggested that the proliferation of machines since the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005 came about because of a “loophole”.
The report is published on what is presumed to be the eve of the publication of the government’s triennial review findings. The review was tasked with examining states and prizes levels for gaming machines on the high street as well as issues around the numbers of gaming machines accessible in the UK and the amount of gambling-related advertising on TV.
The review was announced this time last year and after much delay it is being assumed by many stakeholders that it will report possibly as early as next week. At a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee hearing recently, the culture secretary Tracey Crouch indicated the review would lay out a range of options for staking levels.
Newspaper reports have suggested the range of potential options goes from £2 to £10, £20, £50 to leaving maximum stakes as they are. The report will be put out for a three-month consultation after which a final decision will be announced early next year.
Waugh at Regulus said the “phoney war” over machines was now coming to a close and with various elements of the UK industry having exchanged a war of words over the future of gaming machines, he said the prospects for industry harmony were limited.
“As the industry prepares to enter the sharp end of the government’s limited review of gambling policy, there are few indications of a diplomatic solution to industry relations,” he said.