War Being Waged on UK Gambling

TAGs: Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, iGaming Industry, Online Gambling, susannah gill, UK

War Being Waged on UK GamblingGambling is usually a target for those with perfect morale compasses or perhaps those who enjoy looking down from their high horse. However, in the UK there have been even more gambling grumbles than usual in the last few months.

At the centre of lots of this ridicule has been fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). Despite not being a form of online gambling, the coverage that FOBTs have received recently has still managed to negatively impact iGaming. Even though almost all comparable online games are much fairer for the player, in the eyes of those against gambling, it’s all pretty much the same thing.

A Channel 4 Dispatches programme focused on high street bookmakers and the machines were not pictured in a favourable light.

Given the high profile and scathing nature of the programme others were inspired to do their own homework on FOBTs with GamblingKingz reporting that the terminals were performing outstandingly well for Britain’s two biggest bookmakers. In the first six months of this year, the staggering amount of £6.6 billion was wagered on FOBTs in Hills stores while £5.9 billion was bet on Ladbrokes‘ FOBTs.

Even politicians have waded into the debate on FOBTs and their statements have hardly been supportive either. Labour minister Harriet Harman who had been involved in the process that enables more FOBTs to line the shops that line our streets admitted that they made a mistake.

The mainstream press has been quick to condemn any politicians who entertained the idea of relaxing gambling legislation while those who speak out against gambling are held in a much more favourable light.

The headline statistic being bandied around is that more than 50,000 people in the UK have a gambling problem and admittedly that does sound like a large number. But in terms of population it stands at just 0.9% – a much more manageable figure, although it should remain a concern of the industry.

Criticisms of Online

As expected,online gambling isn’t exactly being presented as a favourable alternative. One piece in the Daily Mail warned against making any moves against bookmakers that “could push players into the arms of internet gambling companies”. This sort of statement should be of little surprise to regular readers as the Mail – owned by porn baron Richard Desmond – have been known to worry about the ethics of the gambling industry before.

The fact that almost all UK-facing operators now pay little or no tax due to offshore moves hasn’t particularly helped the case either. However, should a point of consumption tax ever come to fruition then that issue may finally be put to rest.

The move of many gaming companies to offshore jurisdictions is one that they can’t really be blamed for. The unreasonable rates set by the previous government made it untenable for them to remain.

However, there are some issues that online gambling companies can help with. Privacy expert Simon Davies recently investigated the data protection practices taking place in theiGaming industry and found them to be less than satisfactory.

Having signed up to numerous operators, Davies found that they were reluctant to delete his data once he had asked for his account to be closed. In doing so, Davies also noted that there was a great deal of stalling which included operators demanding that they know the reason for the account closure before doing so.

If the iGaming industry is going to quash this current wave of opposition then issues such as these are going to have to be addressed.

In Defence of iGaming

As previously mentioned at the top of this piece, there’s always going to be a vocal few who argue about the ethics of the gambling industry – consider it the nature of the beast.

However, these few have been drastically multiplying and the spotlight cast upon some forms of gambling by Channel 4’s Dispatches program and its mention by politicians is seeing things get out of hand.

There appears, therefore, to be a need to stand up and argue our corner. For most involved in the industry, there’s no desire to hurt or damage other people’s lives but it would seem that those uninvolved have contemplated that this might be the case. Susannah Gill, Betfair’s public affairs manager for UK and Ireland, gave her take on this issue on the company’s corporate site.

Gill’s explanation was that gambling is simply a form of entertainment and actually leads to less addiction than shopping where estimations are that 8-16% of people are addicted to.

She adds: “I never see anyone make this perfectly rational comparison which to me is necessary in order to underpin the debate on gambling and how to help problem gamblers.”

Judging from player forums this idea that gambling should be viewed as entertainment rather than a get rich quick scheme is getting through. In the Casinomeister forum where, admittedly the more savvy casino players attend, one player noted that their play on a Net Entertainment slot had lost them around £400 over the period of four months. They then noted that they considered this to be a reasonable figure for that period of entertainment.

The good news is that there are politicians who share the view that gambling isn’t just around to rob from the poor. John Whittingdale MP chaired a committee that looked into the centralization of gambling and made a number of encouraging remarks in his comments.

He commented: “Gambling is now widely accepted in the UK as a legitimate entertainment activity.

“The reluctantly permissive tone of gambling legislation over the last 50 years now looks outdated. It is also inadequate to cope with the realities of the global market in online gambling.”

These comments, along with those that have been made in the past by the minister with responsibility for gambling John Penrose, provide examples where politicians have been favorable towards gambling. The state of the economy means that they are looking for any way possible to raise funds and gambling provides one of these ways.

The desire of those that matter to get behind the industry is there, gambling companies just need to provide responsible products that warrant their support.


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