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What are the odds of that? The Tories are in the pockets of the gambling bosses

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Issue 2579
A south London betting shop advertises roulette machines—the most popular game on fixed odds betting terminals
A south London betting shop advertises roulette machines—the most popular game on fixed odds betting terminals (Pic: Flick/Kake Pugh)

The Tories say they want to toughen up on some gambling laws and reduce the amount people can pay into a slot machine.

A government report released last week said ministers want to “ensure that gambling is provided in a socially responsible way.”

But the report reveals the Tories to be completely in thrall to the big gambling lobbyists—and refusing to admit to the poverty that fuels the problem.

It focuses on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and recommends lowering the maximum stake from £100 to anything between £2 and £50.

There are 175,000 machines in betting shops, bingo halls and arcades. Part of their attraction is the speed. Players get a result in seconds, and can feed more money into the machine after 20 seconds.

Their allure is the promise of quick cash to people with little or no money.

Low income areas have a higher number of betting shops than richer areas—and they also have a higher percentage of problem gamblers.


But in the long term, its impossible to win—the odds are always fixed in favour of the machine. A quarter of a million people lost £1,000 in a single sitting to an FOBT last year.

There’s a limit to how many FOBTs are allowed in one betting shop. So to get round that, companies just open multiple shops in one high street.

Now the industry is pushing for more relaxed laws and higher stakes games. Casino lobbying group National Casino Forum wants the jackpot raised from £20,000 to £100,000 on some machines.

The forum is also lobbying the government to increase the amount of slot machines allowed in casinos.

It’s clearly big business. They’ve asked to be allowed up to 500 slot machines in big casinos, which they say will lead to increased casino revenue of £175 million.

But the problem isn’t just slot machines, and of course it’s not just those in low-income areas that gamble.

In fact, casinos happy to take anyone’s money are asking for laws that allowed them to install “high roller” machines that will attract those with big money.

There is an anti-working class stigma attached to the narrative around the use of terminals that is entirely absent when the “high rollers” are gambling at Ascot. It’s part of a wider portrayal of the feckless poor gambling away their lives.

The gambling industry should be better regulated. But alongside it should come measures to give peoples’ lives worth and restore the social welfare that has been eroded.

The report may make the right noises about lowering the stakes and protecting the public from the greedy gambling bosses. But it is essentially toothless, and the next step is a 12 week consultation.

It falls far short of taking on the might of the gambling lobby.

The virtual casinos that fleece you for cash at home

People are gambling more than ever before—and now they don’t have even to leave their homes.

Online gambling is transforming how people bet money and is the fastest growing sector of the industry.

Some seven million people gamble online.

That’s 10 percent of the adult population gambling last year. At least 5 percent of online gamblers are said to have a gambling problem.

Customers are lured in with flashy promotions and promises of free bets.

But unlike machines in betting shops or casinos, all online gambling is account-based.

So companies know all about the customers’ habits, and are able to spot signs of addictive behaviour.

They could use this information to point players to addiction help, or impose time or cash limits on them.

Instead they use that information to tailor advertising to gambling offers that might interest them. Computer advertising formulas intensely target people who have searched for gambling websites.

Adverts for these websites will show up whenever they use the internet.

In offline gambling “self-exclusion” is a formal process.

Someone can ask a bookmaker to close their account and stop taking their money.

But this kind of process doesn’t exist online.

That means it can be much harder to escape an addiction.

No payout as bandits hit jackpot

Fixed odds betting terminals generated more than £1.8 billion last year. The bosses are keen to keep the stakes as high as possible, and keep the money rolling in.

They’ve argued that any reduction in the maximum stake will make bookies close down and the government will lose millions in tax.

Top gambling executives think political pressure means the government will settle for a £20 maximum stake.

Gambling bosses say that reducing the stake to £2 would cost companies between £3.9 billion and

£8.5 billion over a decade. In recent years gambling firms have made much fanfare about their commitment to responsible gambling.

In 2015 they pledged to give just 0.1 percent of their profits to fund charity GamCare.

But bosses haven’t coughed up all the cash, so the charity is struggling to fund the country’s only dedicated gambling support clinic.

It’s not as if the gambling bosses can’t afford it. They raked in £13.8 billion last year.

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