Letters to the Editor

editorial image

Betting shops - Assertions must be challenged

Sir, – Sheona Small’s dreadfully one sided attack on betting shops (Midlothian Advertiser, September 14) cannot go unchallenged, not least because it is littered with mistakes and misconceptions.

She suggests that it is possible to bet £200 in a single spin on gaming machines in betting shops (FOBTs). It is not. There is a maximum stake of £100, though very few customers ever stake at this level. Furthermore, anyone wishing to spend more than £50 must do so over the counter or open an account. In either case, their gaming activity will be monitored by shop staff who are trained to recognise signs of problem gambling and intervene when someone gets into difficulty.

Ms Small – like many other commentators – describes FOBTs as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ without presenting a shred of evidence to back up this lazy assertion. FOBTs were introduced into betting shops more than 15 years ago. Since then, levels of problem gambling have remained stable, according to a new report by the independent Gambling Commission, and actually fell in Scotland to 0.7% in 2015. Warnings of a growing crisis in problem gambling are simply not borne out by reality.

Ms Small also cites figures released by the so called Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFFG).

The CFFG is not an impartial charity; it is a lavishly funded lobby group established by a multi-millionaire Las Vegas based casino games inventor. Who are they to tell betting shop punters – the vast majority of whom play for fun and play responsibly – how they should spend their money and leisure time? Moreover, their figures are not to be trusted. They recently claimed that over £1 million had been lost on FOBTs in the Western Isles when, in fact, the region has no such machines. But why let the facts get in the way of a good headline?

It is worth noting that FOBTs account for only 13% of gambling spend in the UK and the number of machines is in decline. Gamblers spend seven times more money on other gambling products, often in venues that lack our tight controls and trained staff.

However, Ms Small is silent about the billions spent on lotteries, scratchcards and high speed gaming machines in pubs, arcades and service stations.

Finally, Ms Small asserts that an ongoing UK Government review of gaming machines has been shelved ”in an incredible about turn.” This is simply not the case. If she had followed the issue closely, she would know that the review is scheduled to be published in October.

Throughout the review process, we have urged the UK Government to ensure that it acts on the basis of evidence. One of the most telling conclusions of the recent Gambling Commission report is that problem gamblers typically play multiple products, often as many as seven.

There is therefore an onus on the entire gambling industry to identify problem gamblers and point them to support services that can help.

Problem gambling is a complex, multifaceted issue and requires an industry wide effort.

Targeting a single product in betting shops will not reduce problem gambling, but will cause huge economic harm and force thousands of trained staff out of work.

Betting shops are the safest place to gamble on the high street because of those hardworking, professional staff. Once they’re gone, who will lead the way in promoting responsible gambling and providing the necessary support for those who need it ... pubs, arcades, casinos? Don’t bet on it. – Yours, etc.,

Donald Morrison

Association of British Bookmakers, Scotland

Have you seen something in the paper which has inspired you to put pen to paper?

Is there a local issue you want to get off your chest?

Send your letters to midlothianadvertiser@jnlothian.co.uk