The Action Replay column from the March 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
The trade body for bookmakers has criticised a report by MPs on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) after it called for the maximum stake to be reduced from £100 to £2. The recommendations came from the All Party Parliamentary Group as it came to the end of a six month inquiry into FOBTs, following growing concern about the harm being caused on Britain’s high streets by the machines. The high- stake, high- speed electronic casino games have been branded ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’ by campaigners, who argue that they are dangerously addictive (i newspaper, 1 February).
Carolyn Harris, leading the group of MPs involved, said ‘these machines are easily accessed in the most deprived areas, sucking money out of the pockets of cash strapped families’, adding ‘there is nothing responsible about how FOBTs are currently being operated.’
However, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) warned that such a move would be a ‘hammer blow’ to high street bookies and would threaten thousands of jobs in the industry (British bookmakers currently employ more than 43,000 staff). It demanded an immediate inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards into the group of MPs, saying the body was a ‘front for vested commercial interests.’ Malcolm George, the ABB chief executive, commented that ‘Betting shops are closing at the rate of more than 100 a year and if the findings of this rigged report are implemented it could spell the beginning of the end for the high street bookmaker.’
The All Party Parliamentary Group are disappointed that the bookmakers have declined to participate. ‘We fear this is a reflection of their denial of the problems associated with FOBTs and reluctance on their part to speak to policy makers about appropriate regulation.’
Around £3.3bn was generated by the high street betting sector in the year to March 2016, according to the latest figures from the Gambling Commission. Over the same period online gambling operators generated £4.5bn, the National Lottery contributed £3.4bn and £1bn came from traditional casinos and contribute more than £1bn a year in taxes according to the ABB.
Evidently the gambling industry is a lucrative business with FOBTs becoming its new ‘cash cow’. Despite the human misery caused by this form of gambling the bookmakers will fight for FOBTs to be promoted in their betting shops with little if any regulation – yet another example of profits being more important than people under capitalism.