Take a walk down any High Street these days, and you will see examples of one of the few growth industries left in this country today.
Bookmakers are probably the fastest growing, and arguably the most destructive arm of the gaming industry.
Their main function is to ravenously fed of their customers, while remaining safe in the knowledge that there will always be demand for their most addictive product – The FOBT.
The FOBT, or the ‘Fixed Odds Betting Terminal’, is a touch-screen twin-screen roulette and casino gaming machine a almost always found in bookmakers shops.
They have ben described as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ because of the high stakes and higher speed of play – it is easily possible to bet up to £100 every twenty seconds.
Although a 2004 law has thankfully limited the number of machines that can be installed per shop to four, the 2005 Gambling Act, however, relaxed the rules on the number of shops that bookmakers could open in any given area.
In 2007, licensed betting shops no longer had to demonstrate demand before opening new premises, meaning that you now have an explosion of bookmakers in our High Streets, and usually appearing in places previously occupied by banks and building societies.
Those types of premises are selected due to the relative ease and speed their new use can be approved, and passed by council planning departments, as there is no need to submit a ‘change of use’ application. This is also why they may – as many people have noted – cluster in what are viewed to be ‘run-down’ areas, and its not really surprising when each FOBT can generate more than £900 each week, in pure profit.
But bookmakers are a business, they therefore exist to make a profit, so what, you may ask is wrong with that?
Firstly, if I was to suggest that research has shown there to be more than twice as many betting shops in areas of high unemployment, than elsewhere, would that begin to start making sense?
And, would I be wrong if I was also to suggest, that they are targeting the poorest members of society?
And what I was to say that the FOTB-driven proliferation of bookmakers in some of the most deprived areas are not creating jobs?
Would that make a difference?
In 2010, there were 8,822 betting shops, employing 57, 319 people.
Last year, with 9,128 outlets, the betting industry created just 54, 449 jobs.
Often a magnet for violence and anti-social behaviour, betting shops are an irresponsible industry, proliferating in our most deprived areas, sucking cash out of the local economy, and treating their staff with contempt, many of who are too frightened to speak out, in case they lost their jobs.
There is, no longer, the infrastructure in place to deal with the number of problem gamblers this country is going to have, especially if we see the continued rise in the number of FOBT’s.
It is also been rumoured, that there will not even be a Prevalence Survey carried out this year, as the funding has been cut, and a conservative estimate puts the current number of problem gamblers in this country, to be above 850,000.
According to the evidence, each problem gambler costs the British state around £8,000 each year, yet the industry gives over a paltry £5M, which amounts to just 0.1% of the £5 Billion in profits, to the Responsible Gambling Trust, which at the time of writing,funds just one NHS Clinic for gambling addictions in the entire country.
People have been known to wait for referral to this essential service, for eight months or more, despite the government stating: ‘common sense dictates there is a problem with FOBT’s’, and also, they will, ‘wait for the conclusion of research carried out by the Responsible Gambling Trust before it imposes any restrictions’.
However, when you realise that the chair of the Responsible Gambling Trust is also the chair of the Association of British Bookmakers, is it really such a surprise that this issue has been kicked along the road, and mostly forgotten about?
“Rochdale is home to the most deprived estate in the country, with four out of five children growing up in poverty. But such hardship did not stop residents of the Lancashire former mill town from gambling £72million on high stakes betting machines last year, chasing jackpots of up to £500. The total, the equivalent of £340 for every man, woman and child in the town, will fuel the claim that casino-style fixed odd betting terminals (FOBTs), described as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling, risk causing serious addiction among the poor.”