Ever since I’ve been working on policies around preventing harm from gambling, I’ve been amazed at the number of people who tell me, privately, at parties, at church, in lifts, that yes, they had a friend/boyfriend/parent who had problems with gambling.
Problem gambling is often a hidden problem, but it nonetheless affects a surprising number of people in our society. A study by the Gambling Commission in 2017 found that 2 million people in Britain are problem gamblers or are at risk of addiction.
Gambling machines found in betting shops – known as B2 machines or Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – have been much in the news recently. They have a maximum stake of £100, a shocking amount for machines which are easily accessible on the high street. There are frequent reports that people become addicted to such machines, losing large amounts of money and often getting into debt. Data from the Gambling Commission suggests that a significant number of people who play on machines are problematic gamblers.
A chance for change…
The Government is currently consulting on whether the stakes of B2s should be reduced. Our Churches have long called for a dramatic reduction in stakes for these machines, arguing that it is only sensible to reduce stakes on machines that appear to be causing so many problems and instances of debt amongst gamblers.
But there is no evidence that reducing stakes to a particular level (eg the £2 called for by some campaigners) will end problem gambling. Indeed without other mitigating measures, problem gamblers may end up either taking more risky bets, or move onto other forms of gambling such as online gambling.
Making gambling safer
Therefore the Churches in their response to the consultation are saying that a serious stake reduction must be accompanied by other measures to make gambling safer. Betting shops need to take better care of their customers (for example by ending single staffing of shops). There needs to be a greater commitment to identifying customers with problems and interacting with them in ways which help the customer to stop their gambling or to gamble more safely. Gambling operators need to identify the elements of games on machines which are more likely to attract or increase the likelihood of problem gambling and either mitigate or remove them.
Have your say
This consultation is open to the public. If you would like to have your voice heard on these issues email firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 23 January 2018 (please share your response with us at email@example.com). You can read the Government’s full proposals here – https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-proposals-for-changes-to-gaming-machines-and-social-responsibility-measures.