In the UK, an initiative meant to “tackle problem gambling” went into effect last month. Slot machine technology which allows gamblers to set a cap on the amount they can wager at fixed odds betting terminals, or FOBTs, is now available on machines in both England and Wales (read this). Authorized by the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), this technology will also alert gamblers when they have spent 30 minutes playing the game and/or when they have lost £250 in cash.
Machine users will be forced to take a 30-second break when the limit is reached, and gambling shop staff will be made aware of the limit as well. Not every machine in the UK offers this technology, but about 33,000 machines now have it. Dirk Vennix, ABB chief executive, says the initiative is meant to help the gambling industry be “socially responsible” by helping civilians engage in “responsible gambling.”
A “Harm Minimization Measure”
Vennix calls the initiative a revolutionary “harm minimization measure” unlike any the world has seen. Dirk Hansen, CEO of a British gambling advice service called “GamCare”, congratulated the ABB on their efforts. He lauded the initiative not only for promoting responsible gaming, but also for raising awareness of available addiction services in the UK.
Critcs: The Initiative is a Smokescreen
Critics paint a less rosy picture of the ABB's efforts. In a world where players can lose up to £300 per minute, they say a gambler's ability to set limits on an FOBT is nothing but a smokescreen that veils the true problem. “No punter voluntarily restricts (his/her) time,” says Adrian Parkinson of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, adding that the measure will do nothing but divert public attention away from the important issue of how to protect people from FOBTs. Furthermore, Parkinson insists that alerting gamblers to the amount of money they lose only encourages them to “chase their losses.”
Unrealistic Expectations for Gambling Shop Workers
Naysayers offer a second criticism of the ABB initiative. They say that gambling shop workers will now have to perform double duty as “counselors” and “monitors” for those with gambling problems. In an industry that is often manned by only one shop worker at a time, they maintain that this expectation is grandiose and unrealistic. At this time, a maximum of four FOBTs are allowed per gambling shop, although many shops use hidden loopholes to get around this limit.
Executives to be Rewarded for Responsible Gambling Initiatives
According to Ladbrokes CEO Richard Glynn, executives in the UK gambling industry will be rewarded financially for their efforts to encourage responsible FOBT use. Ladbrokes oversees five of the largest gambling chains in the UK, including Betfred and William Hill. Top executives will be rated and financially compensated for their compliance with the new initiative, dubbed the “Code for Responsible Gaming.”
Ladbrokes calls returning customers the “bedrock” of its business. “We do not want our customers to develop problems,” said a company spokesman in a letter to the UK Telegraph. The letter also points out that UK problem gambling stats are low by “international standards,” and that the majority of UK gamblers play FOBTs and other games responsibly. Still, the company reminds the public that it is “not complacent” because it knows that FOBT addiction problems do exist.
FOBTs the “Crack Cocaine” of Gambling
Last December, the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) released the results of its study on gambling machines in the UK. Curiously, no FOBT data was included in the publication. The reason given for this omission: No bookmaker voluntarily released an FOBT to the RGT for investigation. Because FOBTs have the reputation of being as addictive as “crack cocaine” (read this), culture minister Helen Grant realized the imperative need for these machines to be studied. Grant mandated the release of an FOBT from each of the five largest bookmakers in the UK earlier this year.
Bettors can wager £100 every 20 seconds on FOBTs. Losses associated with this type of high speed betting account for approximately one half of the industry's revenue. Although research indicates that the majority of gamers don't become addicted to FOBTs, the small fraction that do become addicted contribute heavily to the industry's overall profits.
Ladbrokes' promise to reward CEOs who promote safe gambling is part of the company's plan to appease Grant and other ministers who became suspicious last winter when bookmakers refused to share sample FOBTs with the RGT.
Responsible Gambling Tips
Whether or not the government imposes a time or cash limit, individuals are ultimately responsible for how much they lose at slot machines. Canada's responsible gaming site, called KnowYourLimit.ca, offers the following tips for slot machine players:
- Don't be superstitious about machinery. Every machine's chances of winning are the same. Certain machines are not “hot” or “lucky.”
- Remember that your chances of winning do not increase because you “feel lucky.”
- Realize that your chances of winning do not increase simply because a machine hasn't paid out in a while.
- Know that your chances of winning do not increase with slot machine experience.
- Remember that you can reduce your overall losses by making smaller bets and betting less frequently.
- Be aware that it is your responsibility to set cash and time limits for yourself.
- Be sure to balance gambling with other leisure activities.
- Do not borrow money for gambling. Borrowing capital to earn back losses is not a good way to recoup your cash.
- Take a break for self-reflection whenever you need it.
Gamblers take a double risk when they enter a casino, betting shop, or online gaming venue: They risk losing money at the game, and they risk becoming addicted to the game. The UK parliament is attempting to protect its citizens from addiction, but a governing body can only do so much. The bulk of the burden is still held by individuals.