Last week the Conservative Government finally announced that it intends to implement another of Labour’s 2017 election manifesto promises: to cut the maximum stake in Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. This means the maximum stake will reduce from £100 to £2 from 2019. In our area, campaigns led by Labour Cllr Richard Dunbar argued that allowing players to gamble £100 stakes means they can lose vast sums of money in a relatively short space of time. If you can bet £300 a minute, you could kiss goodbye to a month’s wages in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.
Over the last three years the number of people described as problem gamblers has risen by a third. Research by the Gambling Commission (2015) estimates there are up to 2 million people aged over 16 who are ‘problem’ gamblers or at risk of becoming problem gamblers. The charity Gambling Addiction estimates that around 350,000 people in the UK have a chronic addiction to gambling. It is, as Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson suggested a “hidden epidemic”
The lack of action from the Government has cost people dearly, particularly those in poorer communities. According to a report by GeoFutures (2014) there is a higher concentration of licenced betting offices (LBOs) in the UK’s most deprived areas. Furthermore, evidence demonstrates that “problem gambling rates among machine players vary according to whether someone lives in proximity to a concentration of LBOs” (Geofutures, 2014: 4). Put simply, the closer you live to a higher concentration of betting shops, the more likely you are to develop a problem with gambling – the poorer you are, the higher your chances of living in one of those areas. For those communities that are already bearing the brunt of the Conservative Government’s Austerity agenda problem gambling has life changing consequences. Problem gamblers face losing their homes, their relationships, slipping into alcoholism and suffering depression and other mental health problems (Griffiths, 2007).
Over the last week, many people have asked why such a move was necessary and why people cannot just stay away from these machines. The answer of course is that these machines are specifically and cunningly designed to make staying away extraordinarily difficult. The careful application of psychological techniques that target the brain’s reward centres and the inclusion of buttons that allow players to choose between different options, lure the player into believing they have some sense of control over the outcome (Griffiths, 2007). This is not the case. While in other forms of gambling such as horse racing, the player knows what the odds of winning are, with FOBT the odds are never in your favour. The player is lured into situation where they believe the next spin of the wheel will give them a win. Walking away becomes almost impossible as players have to overcome hard wired psychological instincts.
Little wonder then that bookmakers made £1.8 billion from these machines last year and consequently, that they opposed capping the maximum stake at £2. Shipley’s current MP Philip Davies has consistently opposed the reduction in FOBT stakes. He claimed that reducing bookies’ profits would result in job losses, but the fact that they raked in over £13 Billion in 2016, means it would be extremely difficult to justify redundancies on economic grounds. Davies’ close association with the Bookmakers and his acceptance of thousands of pounds of free hospitality prompted some to question his impartiality on FOBT. Interestingly Davies did at least attend the debate to vote against FOBT which is more than can be said for the debate on free school meals during the week of the Cheltenham Festival.
The choice for voters is clear. Will they choose a government that drags its feet on issues that blight ordinary people and our poorest communities? A government that is so devoid of ideas that it is ransacking the Labour Manifesto in a desperate attempt to win back votes? Or will they choose Labour: a party that understands our communities, develops clear policies to address issues and takes its responsibilities seriously. The next election will be a two horse race, and for Philip Davies and Theresa May, the going does not look good.
Jo Pike, Labour Parliamentary Candidate in Shipley
21st May 2018