The gambling industry has repeatedly said it takes the issue of gambling addiction very seriously and that it promotes responsible gambling at all times. With gambling addiction continuing to affect many families all over the UK, this is welcome news. However, many campaigners believe the government and the gambling industry are simply not doing enough to protect vulnerable people from developing potential gambling addictions.
The biggest issue that campaigners have is the fact that fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) continue to have maximum spin limits of £100. FOBTs are capable of spinning three times per minute, meaning that it is possible for gamblers to lose up to £300 per minute while playing with the maximum limits. Campaigners believe the limit is far too high and have called for the government to impose legislation to reduce the maximum spin to £2. So far, the government has rejected this and said that it believes the gambling industry is doing enough to protect people from gambling addiction.
Nevertheless, an investigation by the BBC has discovered that some betting shop staff have been told to offer incentives and perks to those who are betting on FOBTs. One former betting shop manager said that he was told to provide free drinks and bets to gamblers on betting machines, and was even told he could buy lunch for customers spending large amounts of money.
Other betting shop managers revealed that they were given a bonus for meeting financial targets on FOBTs.
The former betting shop manager did not want to give his real name, so is referred to as ‘John’. He said that at the Coral betting shop he managed, staff were instructed to make FOBT players feel comfortable and offer them refreshments as soon as they started playing. He said, “If the shop was too hot for them, we would have to turn the heating down or vice versa. They were the gods of the betting shop.”
He also added that his area manager suggested that staff go out and buy lunch for players who were in the shop during their lunch hour so that they did not have to do it themselves. John also said that managers were given a profit target for FOBTs and that if they met it, they would receive a bonus. He said, “I know another firm based their whole wage on how much money they made on machines, so there was every incentive for the staff to encourage people.”
The other two managers who spoke to BBC investigators are still working for Coral but said that they were under pressure to meet financial targets. One even revealed internal emails from management in which they were advised on ‘smashing your targets’. The email read, “Ensure your team has… identified your target key customers to demonstrate our popular feature game. Offer a demo to all of your machine customers to whet their appetite, then encourage them to play with their own money. Once you have identified your target customers, it often helps when you use a ‘hook’ to encourage them to play. ‘You like Big Banker; do you have our bonus card yet? It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s free.'”
For those with a gambling problem, FOBTs are particularly dangerous. These machines are highly addictive and have been called, ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’. There have been a number of incidents around the UK where gamblers have become enraged after losing large sums of money on FOBTs and have then become aggressive towards the machine or staff in the betting shop.
Tony Franklin, who spoke to BBC reporters, admitted that he has had a gambling problem since he was a youngster. He had been avoiding high-street betting shops for more than a year before finally succumbing eighteen months ago. Within a couple of hours, he had emptied his bank account. He said, “I was totally devastated and just completely caught up in the gambling, in the red mist of it.”
Tony’s relapse has cost him dearly; not only has it wiped out his savings, but he has also had to put plans to bring his wife and child to the UK on hold because he lost control over his gambling urges. He said that he kept the receipts from that day to remind him of how quickly he could lose everything again.
Tony is of the opinion that the gambling industry needs to do more to prevent those with gambling addictions from losing control.
There is a strict code of conduct in place in betting shops around the UK, and this means that all staff members should be able to identify problem gamblers and help them. Nevertheless, another betting shop worker said that proper training is not always provided, and added, “I have never actually been trained. All we have is a leaflet and are told to give them out if we feel people have a problem. But working on your own at night, or even in the morning, makes it extremely hard to hand out leaflets and speak to customers who are clearly frustrated.”
Coral has rejected the BBC’s allegations and issued a statement that read, “Recent health surveys show that problem gambling rates have in fact fallen since the introduction of FOBTs and the average Coral customer’s loss per session on an FOBT is around £6-9.
“The introduction of supervised stakes above £50 from April last year (2015) has had a profound change in customer behaviour, with an approximate 70% reduction in stakes above that level.
“Training, tools and processes are in place throughout the business to ensure that potential problem gamblers are identified and protected.”
Association of British Bookmakers spokesperson Malcolm George added that anyone who starts work in a betting shop will ‘absolutely’ receive training regarding the issue of problem gambling.
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