New research is shining an unfavorable light on the fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) in UK bookmakers’ betting shops.
On Wednesday, the betting industry-funded Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) released a series of reports on FOBT use – viewable in full here, here and here – which showed that problem gamblers, ethnic minorities and the unemployed were more likely to play for the machines’ infamous maximum £100 stake.
The research, which was conducted by NatCen Social Research, Geofutures and Featurespace, relied on a dataset of 4k FOBT users, drawn from a sample of gamblers who held bookmaker loyalty cards.
The researchers acknowledge that this sample is not representative of all FOBT players, but of “highly engaged players only” and thus the findings need to be taken with a grain of salt.
It’s also worth noting that the dataset studied covered 10 months ending in June 2014, which predates new industry rules that require bettors wishing to play for stakes of £50 or higher to interact with shop staff. Hard data has yet to released, but the new rules have reportedly reduced the number of maximum wagers played.
TO THE MAX
The most often criticized feature of FOBTs is their maximum £100 wager, which invariably prompts anti-gambling types to spout that hoary chestnut about FOBTs being the “crack cocaine of gambling.” The RGT’s research showed that £100 stakes represent only 0.26% of all FOBT bets. Most £100 bets tend to occur in bunches, with 80% of sessions that involve £100 bets containing more than one maximum bet.
When £100 wagers did occur, they did so very rarely at the start of a wagering session, but grew more frequent toward the end of a session and were usually preceded by gradually increasing stake size.
The number of gamblers who’d placed at least one £100 bet was uniformly distributed across problem and non-problem gamblers. However, those who’d wagered the maximum stake more than 100 times – 16 gamblers in the study group reported wagering the max more than 1000 times – were more heavily skewed toward problem gamblers.
Ironically, the research also showed that while problem gamblers had higher one-off losses, they also won more often and had a higher average rate of return on money spent. You won’t hear the Campaign for Fairer Gambling repeating that stat anytime soon.
AGE, ETHNICITY AND ECONOMICS
Around 16% of all bettors in the study placed at least one £100 wager, but this number rose to 24% of those aged 44-54 years and 20% of those over 65 years, compared to just 9% of the 18-24 demo. Older adults (45+) whose primary form of gambling was on FOBTs tended to play the machines more often and for longer, and also lost the most money.
Breaking things down by ethnicity, 38% of Black bettors placed a £100 wager, compared to 32% of Asians and just 14% of Whites. Odds of ever placing a £100 bet were 2.86 times higher for non-whites than whites.
Unemployed loyalty card holders were more likely to place a £100 stake more often, although their prevalence of ever placing a maximum bet mirrored the 16% average. Interestingly, self-employed individuals scored highest (23%) on the max bet prevalence scale.
Around 18% of gamblers with incomes lower than £10,400 had placed a maximum wager, compared to between 13-15% of those making between £10,400 and £32k, while 19% of those making above £32k copped to making a max FOBT bet at least once.
The researchers also looked into whether the phenomenon of ‘clustering’ – having multiple licensed betting offices (LBO) located in close proximity – had any effect on FOBT use. The researchers concluded that there was a “strong association” between clustering and problem gambling but noted that other factors could be driving this association.
For instance, the researchers note that clustering may occur disproportionately in economically “deprived’ areas, which historically show higher problem gambling prevalence. Anti-gambling critics claim this phenomenon proves that bookies are preying on the vulnerable, while bookies have pointed out that they’re taking advantage of the cheap rents brought on by the closure of high street shops in these areas.
Either way, the RGT believes “the spatial pattern is important. This is the first time it has been demonstrated that, for whatever reason, rates of problem gambling are higher among those who live in LBO concentrations and suggests that those living within LBO concentrations may be considered an at-risk or vulnerable group,” and thus more research into this link should be conducted.