Anti-betting shop Campaigner and Chief Executive of the amusement arcade trade body BACTA, John White, is off to Downing Street next week “to convey the industry’s outrage over the proposed delay in implementing the £2 stake on FOBTs”. Not only does he want to see FOBTs banned pronto – he also wants a tax cut on his members Skill with Prizes (SWP) machines from 20% to 5%. No doubt that tax cut would help to subsidize his members funding of the Carolyn Harris MP led Parliamentary FOBT Group, which has so far shielded BACTA from any effective scrutiny of their wholly inadequate approach to problem gambling.
Problem gamblers who have supported the anti-betting shop Parliamentary Group for the last two years are not surprisingly, feeling somewhat aggrieved at the moment. They want to carry on talking about gaming machines and the multitude of problems that are caused by BACTA’s members machines – high stake B3 machines in amusement arcades and most importantly – gaming machines that are built, designed and offered to children at seaside resorts around the UK coastlines.
They are Category D gaming machines which are specifically designated for use by children – 17 and under. As the Gambling Commission outlines – they can be sited in “casinos, betting shops, tracks with pool betting, bingo premises, adult gaming centres, members’ clubs, miners’ welfare clubs or commercial clubs, FECs, pubs, travelling fairs, and unlicensed (with permit) family entertainment centres”. They can operate at stakes of 10 pence to £1 per play with cash/gift pay out values up to £20. As of September 2017 there were 41,150 of these children’s gaming machines spread across the UK – making John White’s BACTA members £105 million a year.
Many of the problem gamblers I have met over the last few years have pinpointed the start of their gambling addiction to these machines. Yet Carolyn Harris and her Parliamentary colleagues on the FOBT APPG refuse to discuss them. It’s all about FOBTs don’t you know. It must be coincidence that a Parliamentary Group funded by BACTA members – the same members that manufacture, supply and operate children’s gaming machines – can’t find anything to talk about, but betting shop gaming machines. Even now that FOBTs are set to be prohibited – they still want to carry on running their anti betting shop campaign.
Diversionary tactics are ok, until the diversion ends up back where it started. Whilst working for some of BACTA’s members alongside a lobbying company named Interel (who also act as Secretariat for the FOBT APPG) I witnessed them in a bit of a panic over a poster they had displayed in their arcades which was arguably an intentional attempt to attract children. Their nemesis the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) had got wind of this flagrant attempt to entice children to gamble and sent their foot soldiers out to get photographs of the offending poster. The CEO of the offending amusement arcade operator once the panic was over said “had a narrow escape in Birmingham…ABB tried to make an issue of some graphics we were using….Fortunately we got wind of it and removed them before they got down to our AGC with a camera”. That same CEO and his company, surprise, surprise also sponsor Harris’s FOBT Group.
Those problem gamblers who have been supportively following Carolyn Harris’s All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs sat at their latest hearing this week, looking somewhat bemused and angry. They know FOBTs are just one gambling product that causes harm. Now they want to talk about the other gaming machines that cause just as much harm. I’m afraid BACTA, Webb’s Fairer Gambling and their friends in the casinos won’t let you. Their grudge is more important.