Media Watch investigates the latest criticism of FOBTs following a Guardian report on seven gamblers losing more than £10,000 in a day.
Last week, the Guardian is focussing on its discovery that seven gamblers lost more than £10,000 in a day while using controversial fixed-odds betting terminals, during a 10-month period.
The losses, revealed in a submission to the government’s gambling review by the GambleAware charity, has sparked renewed criticism of FOBTs. The charity analysed data from betting sessions, including cases where punters bet the maximum allowable amount of £100, which can be staked every 20 seconds under existing regulations.
It found that in 5.4m sessions over 10 months, three percent of the total included at least one bet of £100, while those who staked the maximum typically did so more than once per session.
It also reported several “extreme outliers”, cases where gamblers lost huge amounts of money in a single session.
Seven sessions saw customers lose more than £10,000 within a few hours, with one gambler losing £13,777.90 – more than half the UK’s national average wage – in a marathon seven-and-a-half-hour sitting.
Staff in bookmakers’ high street shops, which took £1.7bn in revenues from FOBTs last year, are meant to intervene if they are concerned about a customer’s losses or the source of their funds.
“Social responsibility requirements mean all operators must interact with customers where they believe they could be at risk of problem gambling, but also where any transactions could be linked to crime,” said the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission, which has signalled a tougher stance against firms that fail to prevent problem gambling.
Carolyn Harris MP, who chairs a cross-party group that has recommended slashing the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2, said examples of such large losses, though rare, were concerning.
“Those are obscene losses,” she said. “For me, if anybody can sit there for that long and lose that much money, they’re not being watched and there is no intervention.”
She also questioned whether firms were implementing antimoney- laundering controls properly in the light of recent examples of criminals using FOBTs to launder the proceeds of crime. She said it was unfair to put shop staff in the position of having to stop someone from betting when they were losing a lot of money.
“Why should cashiers be forced to intervene? It’s above their pay grade. There has to be a better way”.
GambleAware leveled new criticism saying there was not sufficient evidence to suggest that problem gambling was being caused by FOBTs. But it said it was “irrefutable that gaming machines are associated with harms”.
The charity also found that problem gamblers and the unemployed were more likely to place a £100 bet than other players, as were loyalty card holders.