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I did a radio phone-in this morning on BBC Radio Wales, ahead of tonight’s Panorama programme on gambling.

It amused me that they kept mentioning the fact that “the programme will talk about a rise in violence in betting shops since the Gambling Act”, but when I said that “I would be very surprised if they succeed in demonstrating a rise in violence… They might show some examples of violence, but I doubt very much they will be able to present any empirical evidence that it has increased,” the presenter said, “well we shouldn’t speculate about what the programme will show until it goes out”. So it’s fine to speculate that it will do something that it can’t possibly do, but not so fine to speculate that it won’t manage it…

I watched a Panorama recently on pay-day loans, and found it horrifying. But it’s very easy to make a broadcast programme characterising anything as anything you want it to be – they had me this morning on as a gambling expert, which you wags will doubtless say rather proves the point – and the danger is always that you fall into the trap of making alarmist and therefore riveting car-crash television, rather than that advancing the debate.

Demonising FOBTs tonight as the font of all evil will, I am sure, not be difficult. But the fact that enough people get angry to make a film – such that they hit things, spit at them, and shout rudely at people – is hardly the fault of a roulette machine. You could just as simply video people walking down the High Street and cut similar footage together, because the inside of a betting shop is a microcosm of society. The bloke who kicks a machine and tells the shop manager to f*ck off is likely to need anger management classes whether his local bookie offers him a crappy electronic terminal to play on, or not. There are plenty of broken windows in the world that aren’t the result of errant cricket balls hit from a genteel game on the village green.

I can hear the objection already! This sort of rational approach can only result from living in a closeted and privileged world: this is about a certain section of society which I can never understand. Really? Isn’t the approach that says it is about deprived areas offensive to everyone, wherever they sit in the argument? What difference does it make whether you’re rich or poor to the rule of thumb that you should never gamble more than you can afford?

If programmes like tonight’s were about the undeniable existence of vulnerable people who need protecting from themselves (whichever of the many outlets they fall victim to with their illness), I would applaud it with great vigour. But how much more likely is it that it will be about the ‘fact’ that FOBTs are inherently problematic (market on how early in the programme they are described as ‘the crack cocaine of the gambling industry’, anyone?); and that the premise on which it will be based will be random acts of violence and offensive behaviour which will, like water, find an outlet somewhere?

Those arguing for a limit on machines or on a limit on shops need secure only the former to get both by default: an average of 50% of High Street premises are dependent on FOBTs for profitability, and none of the big chains will keep open places which haemorrhage cash.

The only certain upshot of that will be damage to jobs; but likely, too, will be damage to horseracing’s levy (since product cross-selling is not, as many seem to think, one-way traffic in the wrong direction), an increase in online play, and a boost to the black market.

If you’ve set out your lobby to achieve a reduction in violence and an increase in help for the vulnerable, that’s a poor end result.

Posted in Betting industry.

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3 Responses

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  1. geoffbanks says

    We have a Gambling Commission, which is very expensive to fund and can cost me, one Bookmaker, 17500 a year in fees. Their reaction to the issue of Fobt’s is that firms ‘know the rules’ and should ‘self regulate’. Would you self regulate something making £900 GP a week?
    If there’s a point to the Gambling Commission, who are supposed to oversee such matters, I’m missing it

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Panorama 20:30 Nov 5th - Gambling Nation linked to this post on November 10, 2012

    […] Chats: 1779 Here are a number of links discussing the Panorama hysteria: Panorama | Mark Davies – Mark Davies' blog (Betfair founder), amusing that when he tried to add some rationale to the mix […]

  2. Am I yawning because it’s early, or boring? | Mark Davies linked to this post on January 11, 2013

    […] is not the point. The weird thing about it is that this is the identical story that was run in November.  Who makes the editorial decision that says this is news, when there hasn’t been a new […]

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