On Friday, the Guardian reported that the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) was investigating claims by a self-described recovering gambling addict that staff in a Ladbrokes betting shop in Birmingham watched him take out high-interest payday loans over the phone so that he could continue playing the shop’s FOBTs.
The addict, 39-year-old Paul Jones, said he took out the maximum loan available (£200) over the telephone, then proceeded to lose it all to the FOBT within 15 minutes. Jones then took out a second payday loan, losing that sum as well. He claims to have only stopped because his phone’s battery died.
Jones says he has bank statements supporting his transaction claims, and further claimed the Ladbrokes staffers were plainly aware of his activities, as he kept checking with them to determine whether the funds had been added to his credit card account.
Jones said that none of the shop staff “said anything about whether or not I should be doing that. It wasn’t encouraged but it certainly wasn’t discouraged.” Jones says he doesn’t blame the staff for his being a compulsive gambler, “I blame them for making it worse.”
A Ladbrokes rep told the Guardian it was investigating Jones’ claims and that the company has “a clear commitment to helping our customers gamble in a safe and responsible manner.”
Sarah Gardner, the UKGC’s executive director, said the regulator expects its licensees to “take their social responsibility duties seriously and to step in when they have concerns that a customer’s behavior may indicate problem gambling.”
The Guardian has led the recent media charge to paint gambling operators as a menace to society, and it’s worth noting that Jones told the paper that he hadn’t gambled since March, and the article makes no mention of when Jones’ loans were issued, suggesting that it was a slow week for bookies-behaving-badly news, necessitating this dip into the bad news archives.
The UK government is set to issue the results of its triennial gambling review in November, and virtually everyone now expects some kind of mandated reduction of the FOBT £100 maximum stake. Anti-gambling campaigners have called for a reduction to just £2, while the industry is hoping for something closer to £20-£30.
Paddy Power Betfair, which this week offered support for a stake reduction to “£10 or less,” has offered insight on how deep various reductions could bite into operator revenue. The company’s submission to the triennial review claimed a reduction to £30 would lower the company’s FOBT revenue by 15%-21%, while a £2 maximum stake could reduce revenue by 33%-43%.