Happy Thanksgiving from GGB; Newsletter Returns December 4

UK Bookies Defend FOBTs

Britain’s bookmaking giants are going on the offensive—or defensive, depending on the point of view. They’re denying opponents’ claims that electronic table games are a leading cause of problem gambling. At the same time, industry executives led by William Hill CEO Ralph Topping (l.) are promising reforms aimed at combating problem gambling.

The heads of five of the UK’s top bookmakers have gone public with a defense of their right to open betting shops with fixed-odds betting terminals.

A letter published by the Telegraph and signed by William Hill CEO Ralph Topping, Ladbrokes CEO Richard Glynn, Gala Coral CEO Carl Leaver, Paddy Power CEO Patrick Kennedy and Betfred Chairman Fred Done noted that the “overwhelming majority” of their customers gamble responsibly. They pointed out that the country’s problem gambling levels are “low by international standards” and “have not increased since the introduction of gaming machines in betting shops or the inception of online gambling”—a claim borne out by the UK Gambling Commission’s most recent participation survey, which found that last year only 1 percent of respondents had played FOBTs, as the controversial electronic table games are known, a rate unchanged since 2012.

Local governments are lobbying Parliament for extra zoning powers to curtail what they see as a explosion of high street betting shops designed to cash in on the lucrative e-tables, which opponents say target the poorest neighborhoods, degrade shopping districts and exacerbate problem gambling and other social ills.

The Association of British Bookmakers strenuously denies this. “People who bet responsibly and return are the bedrock of our businesses,” the five executives maintained in their letter. “We do not want our customers to develop problems”.

They added that they welcome the government’s call for an “evidence-based debate” on the machines.

They’re also promoting a new Code for Responsible Gambling that includes “extra safeguards” on the use of FOBTs that include enforced breaks with automatic real-time alerts to make players aware of the money and time they’re spending. The alerts will also be shared with staff,  who are being trained to spot symptoms of problem gambling and how best to approach customers displaying such signs.

Ladbrokes is going a step further and says it will link the pay of top executives to their success in ensuring social responsibility.