The proposal from the APPG to compare FOBTs to online is misguided and will have negative consequences for the industry.
In November 2019, the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) published its interim report on the UK online gambling market.
The Group conducted a six-month enquiry hearing evidence from a wide variety of groups including industry bodies, academics, operators and some members of the public who spoke of their own personal experiences of been harmed by online gambling.
Whilst the report was comprehensive and issued some good recommendations, it lacked the balance of hearing a counterargument of how gambling is a pastime enjoyed in a responsible way by many millions of people both in the UK and around the world.
The members of the APPG stated in their report that they were not anti-gambling and their interest is ensuring that the sector operates safely and in a way that minimises the potential for harming vulnerable people. This is good to read since the gambling industry provides a lot of jobs and tax revenues to the UK economy.
One of their key recommendations was based on viewing Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in the same light as online betting and introducing the same stake limit of £2. ‘If they are not acceptable in land-based venues they should not be allowed online.’
Unfortunately like much of the debate around the topic of problem gambling one issue is linked to another issue, to another, indirectly linked to another, cross linked to another issue, assume commonality and before we know it we have a recommendation that impacts on totally the wrong group of players, the majority who gamble responsibly.
Comparing FOBTs to online slots isn’t a credible argument and a justification for saying that the maximum stake should be £2. Online gambling is completely different to retail gambling.
With online gambling, many of the operators are more proactive in keeping the players safe and protected from problem gambling. They can monitor player activity and offer the player controls to limit their deposits and play. They will do source of wealth checks on players who deposit large amounts of money, regularly monitor activity and intervene if playing patterns are outside the normal. None of that is available in retail in the same way that it is with the major online operators.
The committee asks the question ‘other than the operator objections, it is not at all clear to us why the government and regulator are not looking at stake and deposit limits online’ – well how about the many hundreds of thousands of players in the UK who enjoy the online casino experience and like to play in an environment where they have the choice to decide on how much they wish to stake on a slot, be it £1 or £10.
A perception seems to exist that because a small minority of people have had serious problematic behaviours with gambling then everyone is at risk, everyone will lose and everyone is going to become an addict. Were the committee aware that on average casino margin is 3% across all games, meaning that on average for every £500 wagered the player will lose £15. In some cases they will win small, win big, break even, lose small, lose big. That is the nature of gambling. Most people who gamble do so knowing this and can enjoy is as a form of leisure for an evening.
It is unfortunate that anyone becomes badly impacted by gambling and in some cases tragically led to suicide. Operators know they have had serious failings and, in some cases, have publicly apologized for the harm caused. The same operators are willing to do more to have a sector that is safer and minimizes harm to potential vulnerable people. However, a balance is needed on many discussion points and recommending stake limits on online casino games is misguided.
In fact, implementing stake limits will mean a large of number of casino players will stop playing with the UK regulated sites and will open accounts with operators offshore who pay no UK tax and have little regard for player protection limits. That is what happens when choice gets restricted and is something that has been proven in other territories around the world.
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