No further curbs on UK fixed-odds betting terminals; crack cocaine myth debunked

uk-fixed-odds-betting-terminals-crackThe UK government has decided not to impose further restrictions on the use of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops, disappointing opposition MPs, documentary news producers and other gambling scolds. Culture Minister Hugh Robertson, whose brief includes gambling issues, told Parliament that while “common sense suggests” problem gambling stemming from FOBTs was a “major problem … there is a lack of evidence to back that up.” Irate opposition MPs penned a joint letter to The Guardian in which they expressed their opposition to the number of shops allowed on certain high streets, proposals to lift the cap on the number of FOBTs each shop can contain, plus the irksome fact that nothing really rhymes with FOBT, preventing them from writing catchy slogans to chant at anti-gambling rallies. (Fine, we made up that last one.)

There’s much to quibble about with these critics’ positions, such as their description of punters being “enticed off the high street” by such machines, as if FOBTs were scantily clad women luring unsuspecting sex-starved sailors into a dark alley where club-wielding accomplices lay in wait. As Association of British Bookmakers’ CEO Dirk Vennix put it, the overwhelming majority of FOBT users are perfectly equipped to “think about what they spend and how much they can lose – they are not stupid.”

But the biggest howler made by these critics is that FOBTs represent the “crack cocaine of gambling.” That would no doubt infuriate US anti-gambling politicians, who have already staked out a well-worn claim for online gambling as the real crack cocaine of gambling. But the UK already has online gambling, so we guess it’s whatever’s new and popular that strikes narco-terror in the hearts of anti-gambling types. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling won’t be satisfied until FOBTs have been utterly eradicated from high street betting shops because they’re simply too addictive. You know, just like crack.

But dare we say it? Crack appears to have been given a bad rap. While it’s supposedly common knowledge that one hit on a crack pipe is but the first step on the road to blowing strangers in alleyways for $5 a pop, the actual research suggests crack is nowhere near as addictive as the initial flurry of lurid media reports suggested.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – a US federal government research outfit – did a survey in 1991 that determined the number of respondents who’d ever used powder cocaine and had done so in the past month was about one in twelve (8%). Meanwhile, 12.3% of respondents who had ever smoked crack said they’d smoked a rock in the past month. Admittedly, that’s a higher number than the powder cocaine users, but it still means that seven of eight people who had ever tried crack hadn’t felt the need to use it for at least 30 days, and there was no suggestion those who had were daily users.

Doubling down on this notion, a NIDA survey of high school students found only one in 35 of those who’d ever tried crack reported daily or near-daily use – comparable numbers for powder cocaine, and lower than the continuation rates for alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and LSD. (But we guess “the LSD of gambling” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

But as John P. Morgan and Lynn Zimmer concluded in The Social Pharmacology of Smokable Cocaine – their contribution to the book Crack in America – “because smoking is a more direct mode of ingestion offering a much more intense high, the fraction of cocaine users who are drawn to crack is very likely to be among the heaviest users to begin with … a more accurate interpretation of existing evidence is that already abuse-prone cocaine users are most likely to move toward a more efficient mode of ingestion as they escalate their use.” [Emphasis in the original.]

In other words, addiction-prone people get addicted to things, while the vast majority of us don’t. And while cocaine may be illegal in the UK, gambling isn’t. (And unlike crack, gambling has actual health benefits.) As such, the vast majority shouldn’t be deprived of their legal right to enjoy this form of entertainment because of the unfortunate actions of the few. So until people start clamoring for the repeal of the use of all credit cards because a statistical few shopaholics can’t stop indulging in retail therapy, we’re channeling our inner Chris Crocker by demanding that you LEAVE GAMBLING ALONE!

For God’s sake, no one should take this as an endorsement to go out and try crack cocaine. (Seriously. Don’t do it.) All we’re saying is that anti-gambling critics who refer to the hyper-addictive nature of this or that form of gambling by comparing it to crack cocaine clearly haven’t done their research on the drug itself, so why would you trust their claims about gambling?