Skip to content

Perchance to dream

It feels like there’s been a flurry of activity in parliament of people with an interest in aspects of gambling, as if what was described at the ABB AGM two weeks ago as a war had entered a new, more attritional phase.

The Crausby EDM, I posted yesterday; as I did the report which the ABB published. But in addition to that, Ann McIntosh MP put out a press release about the Offshore Gambling Bill; today, Jim Cunningham MP has tabled a load of questions about stakes and prizes, clustering, and “what evidence the DCMS has received to suggest that electronic gaming machines are addictive”; and yesterday the Labour MP Graham Jones asked a question of Local Communities Minister Eric Pickles. The question was: “The Government talk about localism, but they still set the caps for the licensing of various shops in town centres, including bookmakers and sex shops. Will they consider abolishing those caps and allowing local people and local authorities to set the levels?” The reply:  ‘That is an interesting and brave request, and I will consider it’.

I suspect that much of this sudden activity is the result of behind-the-scenes action from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which, doing a lobbying job at which it has so far proved very adept, will be seeking as many supporters for its position as it can find. My last post on this organisation yielded a number of interesting e-mails from people, some more credible than others. The facts appear to be that it is backed by Derbyshire-based businessman called Derek Webb, who made three donations of £12,500 to the Lib Dems in an 12-month period to September 2012. Whatever his other interests, he is the inventor of a poker-related game called 3 Card poker, for which he has registered a patent, and he sold the assets of his company Prime table games to Galaxy Gaming in Las Vegas in October 2011 in a deal which appears to leave him with some kind of equity stake.

Make of all that what you will. It isn’t the obvious CV of someone who believes that gambling per se is wrong, but whatever the motivation, the CFFG’s campaign against FOBTs continues apace. From my side, I remain keen that the arguments should stick to numbers that are relevant, rather than ones that aren’t. Take this, for example, from the aforementioned Graham Jones’s website: “If each of a potential 22 betting shops in Hyndburn had the maximum of 4 terminals, then collectively they have the capacity to take in £1,080,000 per hour.” Indeed, Graham: but that would require not just someone to play twice as quickly as the average, but – more importantly – to complete 180 consecutive losing spins, the odds of which are the same as winning the Lottery three weeks on the trot. So, not terribly useful as an argument.

The Gambling Commission commissioned a report which was published earlier this month which examines machine gambling in the Prevalence Study. I have yet to read it all, but from the Executive Summary I can tell you that while 12% of young men (aged 16-34) played slot machines in 1999, only 5% did in 2010; while in contrast the proportion in the same age group playing FOBTs grew from 9% in 2007 to 14% by 2010.  People who play FOBTs are wont to do so more often: 35% of those who play do so at least once a week, while with only 21% was this true of slots.

It seems clear from that, then, that they are played more often; but does that make them more addictive, or just more fun? There’s the rub, of course: and the answer is different for different types of people. For the vast majority, the greater interaction of this modernised leisure activity provides a better distraction from other daily angsts than its forebear; for a small proportion, they’re a disaster.

All the lobbying that takes place around the subject, though, fails to appreciate that this latter category is no more desirable to the bookies than it is to anti-gambling campaigners. With emotive language and statistics so unrepresentative as to be irrelevant to proper debate, they then encourage willing MPs who can use individual case studies to good PR effect to badger the Government into changes which the Government knows make no sense on the basis of the more detailed evidence. The result? An argument, and no progress; when there’s plenty of progress that could be made by harnessing some obvious technological solutions, and no real need to argue in order to secure it.



Posted in Betting industry, Regulation.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

One Response

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Richas says

    I have been doing my own bit of digging on “Fairer Gambling.”. You are quite right that they are behind an awful lot of adverse comment on FOBTs. They seem to have a good working relationship with and the Bureaux of Investigative Journalism (of false ex Tory minister paedo claim fame). Between them they are behind the Panorama special the Channel 4 Despatches programme and numerous lurid front page gambling pieces in the Mail, Guardian, Independent on Sunday, Express and many more. Derek Webb even paid for an advertorial in the New Statesman.

    Their biggest success has come from some highly misleading reports that they have put out about FOBT betting in various local areas (constituencies). In January they got that onto the front page of the Mail and the Guardian. What they did was look at high unemployment areas and low unemployment areas and contrasted the betting office presence.

    The data they used has been published by the Guardian which gives it some increased credibility, indeed Caroline Lucas MP when writing to the minister sites the “Guardian” figures. They are here

    The data is misleading for a host of reasons but the worst is that it is all based on counting the number of FOBTs and then assuming that each takes an industry average in wagers. They use total bets not gross yield to make the numbers seem as big as possible. The bigger deception is pretending that the data is local, it is not, it is a national average applied to the FOBT count. for an area. Now the bookmakers are in high streets and these tend to be “poorer” areas but the central claim that they are targeting the poor is false. Bookmakers go for footfall to decide where to set up.

    This January Guardian data is easy to spot as a national very basic model not local data as many constituencies have the exact same figures. Amusingly if you download the full spreadsheet you can see that the total bet claim for the constituency looks precise – ie Birmingham Ladywood £163,067,753 but they do themselves an injustice, the figure in the spreadsheet is far more precise £163,067,753.3333. They are claiming local betting data to the millionth of a penny!

    it gets worse though. The Guardian did a follow up article and this time “Fairer Gambling” give us the FOBT betting and yield figures for every single constituency.

    Now this time non of the constituencies have identical figures, indeed when we download the data we find that the model has been tweaked to give us regional differences. Interestingly the regions match the Euro constituencies, shown only in the downloadable spreadsheet not the article, naturally. From the spreadsheet you can add a column to work out that the model used is again based on an assumed yield per machine – this time the average weekly yield per FOBT has three assumed figures – £657.77 or £967.31 or £1000.31.

    Every London region FOBT yields £1000.66 a week whether it is in Barking or Chelsea.
    The £967.31 yielding machines are in: Eastern Euro Region, South East Euro Region, South West Euro Region, The £657.77 yielding machines are in: East Midlands Euro Region, North East Euro Region, North West Euro Region, Scotland Euro Region, Wales Euro Region, West Midlands Euro Region, Yorkshire and Humber Euro Region.

    Now not explaining this crude model is misleading enough but Fairer Gambling still have the problem of identical constituencies revealing their model.

    Taking just the first two constituencies listed alphabetically -Aberavon and Aberconwy. Both have 9 bookies and 33 machines. They are both in Wales and so the assumed yield per week per machine is the same at £657.77. That is the model and it should give us £657.77*52 weeks*33 machines to give us the gross annual yield of £1,128,733.32 for BOTH constituencies. Instead we have £1,130,990.78664 and £1,131,298.623 listed (though shown to the penny not to the millionth of a penny).

    “Fairer Gambling” have inserted a fudge factor. Aberavon is said to have 33.066 FOBTs in the spreadsheet (though shown as 33) and Aberconwy 33.075 FOBTs (again shown as 33). Each constituency has been individualised by fractionally altering the number of FOBTs in the constituency – but never by enough to alter the model which is always a fixed yield per FOBT depending upon region. The only reason to have this false number for the FOBTs in the calculation is to fudge the figures a little to produce individual constituency figures that are different and so do not reveal how crude the model is. The “fudge factor” is deliberately altering the yield per constituency to hide the simple nature of the model and make it look like a calculation for each constituency. The whole “report” is deceptive – it pretends to give constituency level data but is really a fairly crude model.

    Very deceptive but it has delivered them lots more press coverage at a local level and even let them get the story rehashed for Wales and Scotland.

    It is clear from the spreadsheet that they are using this false data to lobby individual MPs and MEPs – they even list who they are in the spreadsheet to help them lobby. Judging by Caroline Lucas’s letter some MPs have been entirely taken in, they believe this “data” is a real report not a crude model that deliberately misleads regarding what is being spent on these machines by conflating yield with total bets and essentially inventing local data from crude assumptions and a deliberate effort to hide the model used.

You must be logged in to post a comment.