We need more research: Ignorance or something else more worrying?

FOBT, stakes, Industry, politics, finance
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The British gambling industry knows where moral redress is required, so, asks Chris Webster, why on earth is the Gambling Commission claiming so virulently to be in-the-dark?

Here’s what a man does when he knows he isn’t fit for a task. He says he doesn’t have the right tools. I’m about to save the Gambling Commission four years of research and – one presumes – millions of pounds,and state quite simply that there is but one problem product on the British market at the moment, and yes – that’s still the FOBT.

And if you’re bored of reading that sentence,then trust me – it’s even more exasperating writing it. For four years of debate surrounding the way too late review of stakes and prizes,the glaringly obvious primary obstacle – both in terms of market parity and the sheer shit-smearing image it generates – was quite clearly the B2s. After all, rocket science, it ain’t. The stories abound of people entrapped and broken were well purported by non-domestic news outlets.

The only one that didn’t clearly read this was the Gambling Commission whose shameful recommendation of a £30 stake for the FOBT had everyone in the industry eyes wide open, jaws dropping and the words‘ have they lost the plot’ dripping off their tongues.

And now they want even more research? In normal circumstances,this would be a vote winner in any sector.

But there’s nothing normal about our current circumstances.

Last September,none other but the veritable New York Times ran a story (42 Minutes,£2,600 Lost:The UK’s Growing Gambling Problem) which specifically pointed the finger at FOBTs for an alleged 53 per cent rise in the number of vulnerable gamblers between 2012 and 2015.

The very same article went on to document that the average quality of “research”- the studies oft quoted by supposedly impartial bodies – are about as airtight as a bottle of Russian nerve agent.There’s too much skin in the game, too much bad blood and vested interest. It’s a crooked enterprise, a game-of-thrones,with each faction baldly skewing the numbers in their favour. One 2014 article in the academic journal International Gambling Studies went so far as to argue that: “Until journal authors and editors devise a systematic approach to disclosures of interest,[gambling research] will always be a second-rate field…which reflects poorly on everyone of its practitioners.”

The author of that piece, Goldsmith’s Rebecca Cassidy, claimed that the entire framework of UK gambling data presentation was essentially corrupt, and not fit for purpose. But now the Gambling Commission, in conjunction with GambleAware – whose neutrality is very obviously un-neutral – claims that more research will some- how clarify the desperately murky waters created by its previous paper-trail.

So,what does this really mean? Well, it’s not good for the regulator. For the Gambling Commission to play blind-man’s buff for half a decade, that’s worth a question to be answered at the very least.

But as we know only too well,our regulator doesn’t take kindly to be being questioned or called to account.

We were kind of hoping that would change under Neil McArthur. The honeymoon period is over for the new CEO – and quite frankly,it seems that the regulator has still got the same nasty tone.

In some quarters it’s being positioned as malevolent.

And who are we to argue. After all, the Gambling Commission, as a corporate voice, doesn’t actually speak to anyone outside of its heavily guarded ivory tower. It speaks at them like a robot that hasn’t yet been programmed to say anything other than its very few messages.

The truth is,there are vulnerable problem gamblers in this country, but they’re not headed to AGCs with a suitcase full of pound coins. They’re going to the bookies, and they’ve got credit cards. Meanwhile, the whole point-of-being of the Gambling Commission is the protection of these people. And it failed them woefully when it came to FOBTs in its triennial submission.

And now it’s failing ordinary and casual players because gaming is no longer about fun.The Com- mission and its colleagues are making pretty certain that doesn’t happen. Fun, understandably, is not a mission statement of regulation.

The reality is, Britain’s AGCs are not the problem. The problem was, and is,the single product that the Gambling Commission felt comfortable recommending a £30 stake in the review. And it had plenty of research at its disposal to get that stance right. But it clearly didn’t get it right.

Soft on bookies,hard on the land based coin-op sector? It’s a question most in the industry have been posing for sometime. And it won’t go away – not least until the Commission acknowledges these criticisms and delivers a human response to it rather than its tired old script.

Strange why the soft side of gaming and gambling in the UK industry is losing its trust in the regulator. Yet, it’s as obvious as why the stake on the FOBTs should not have been £30.

So, is the call for greater research a declaration of ignorance or is there something more sinister in the gameplay of the Gambling Commission? Either way, it doesn’t reflect particularly well on the standing of the regulator.

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