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COMMENT


Local authority licensing powers over betting shops


Derek Webb, of the Fairer Gambling Campaign, discusses why local authorities should take a stronger stance against roulette machines in betting shops.


R


ecently the Department for Culture, Media and Sport issued a report on the


hearing into the 2005 Gambling Act. A major recommendation was a shift towards more local authority (LA) licensing responsibility. The chairman of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has acknowledged that, based on a 2009 concordat, LAs have a regulatory role over day-to-day compliance and enforcement.


Machines in betting shops, originally called FOBTs (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals), but now classed as B2 machines, win nearly £1.4bn per year from gamblers, which is around £0.5bn more than the total UK casino table and machine win, according to the UKGC. Based on bookmakers’ annual reports, the turnover in betting shops is now split around 80% on machines and around 20% on over-the-counter betting.


Because FOBTs (B2s) are gaming machines, rather than betting machines, betting shops are in breach of licence, as a betting licence is granted for the primary activity of betting. Therefore LAs have the power to deny new or renewal betting shop license on those grounds alone.


Additionally there are the three licensing objectives that LAs can use to assess if there has been a breach of licence. The ‘fair and open’ and ‘no association of crime with gambling’ objectives are hard for LAs to enforce without UKGC or police support. The prevention of harm and exploitation of the young and vulnerable ‘problem gambling’ licensing objective is an easier tool for the LA to use.


The 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Study (BGPS) showed that there had been an increase of 50% in problem gambling since the 2007


22 | public sector executive Jul/Aug 12


survey. It defi ned 18 gambling activities and indicated that fi ve activities (including FOBTs) had higher problem gambling prevalence.


Of those fi ve activities, it showed that FOBT gamblers were less likely to gamble at other activities.


Further the BGPS showed that the young, unemployed, low-income demographic is


gamblers and the amounts they lose.


The bookmakers and the FOBT suppliers know how addictive FOBTs are. They know the answers to the following questions: What percentage of individual funds deposited into FOBTs are totally lost by gamblers? What percentage of all funds deposited into FOBTS are lost by gamblers?


Simply if the answer is ‘100%’ then this would show FOBTs to be totally addictive to everybody. We estimate that both answers are 50% or more, indicators of real problem gambling.


FOBTS are winning around £1,000 per machine per year per gambler. But with many infrequent gamblers losing far less, there is a hard-core of problem gamblers losing far more. These hard- core problem gamblers will sadly cause wider social and economic cost to their families and communities to maintain their addictions.


disproportionately participating in FOBT gambling. This also applied to the vulnerable at-risk gamblers who are ‘high-time and high- spend’ gamblers, who are losing £7 per hour or more. However FOBT gamblers lose £30 per hour!


There has been some criticism of the BGPS, claiming that it is too easy to assess someone as a problem gambler. But the reality is that the reverse is true. Many gamblers do not become problem gamblers until later in life. Also, many gamblers hide their problem gambling from others and themselves. But the main weakness in any problem gambling survey is that gamblers losing money they should not have are unlikely to want to explain that. Therefore if the BGPS is fl awed in any way, it will be in under-indicating the numbers of problem


LAs should enact their gambling licensing responsibilities by ensuring that taking action against betting shops with these destructive FOBTs becomes a priority.


* All assertions contained within this article are the opinion of the Fairer Gambling Campaign (www.Fairergambling.co.uk), a not-for-profi t entity funded by Prime Table Games – experts in understanding game content and player behaviour.


Derek Webb FOR MORE INFORMATION


T: 01332 638025 E: info@fairergambling.org W: http://fairergambling.org/


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