An industry’s reputation is only as strong as its weakest link, and with casino operators joining the call, the verdict is unanimously in favour of FOBT stake reduction.
The owner of the Hippodrome Casino has joined the call for increased FOBT limitations, saying the B2 machines give the gambling industry a bad name. Simon Thomas, former owner of Beacon Bingo and Showboat arcade brands, and one-time National President of Bacta, told the Telegraph he wants to see a stake reduction, agreeing with the amusements sector on the clear disparity FOBTs create on the high street.
“We have casinos with very few slot machines and we have slot machines in betting shops in easily accessible high street locations,” he said. “There are £100-a-spin roulette games every 20 seconds with no staff, or one member of staff often.”
Thomas argued that the speed at which FOBTs can take money is the route of the problem, especially when the betting sector appears to let down the industry in other areas.
“My roulette works roughly five times slower,” he explained. “I don’t have any anti-social behaviour or crime. Conversely, the betting shops have many thousands of their machines smashed every year.”
Despite this continued challenge to both the casino and amusements sectors, Thomas has felt the same Brexit tourist boost that many seaside arcade operators have also experienced. Since the vote last summer, roulette wheels and blackjack tables income has increased by 20pc.
Thomas noted that the weakened pound has seen foreign tourists flood to the capital, while domestic visitors, worried that sterling will not go as far abroad, are staycationing instead.
“It took a few months for that to get going. People didn’t change their holiday plans immediately,” he said. “London is once again a fantastic place to be.”
Some 35,000 people stream into Thomas’ establishment every week, however only two thirds are there to gamble: the rest, Thomas said, “come because it is a safe bar”.
This idea of a safe community is another shared trait between amusements and casinos, and perhaps these similarities explain why Thomas was confident to make the leap across the sectors – as well as his showman heritage.
“I think I am the seventh generation in the gambling business,” he added. “My great-great whatevers were travelling showman, so I think the bearded lady was probably one of my great-great-great grannies.”