When it comes to casino, betting and gaming, problem gambling behaviour has been one of the scourges of the contemporary gambling industry not only in the UK, but globally as well. Problem gambling affects players of different gender, age and social status, and is characterised with the constant urge to gamble continuously regardless of the eventual negative consequences that may occur.
For a few years now, the UK Government, regulatory authorities and non-governmental organisations have been focused on reducing the harmful effects of gambling activities in the country. At the beginning of April this year, the UK competent authorities implemented new rules in order to reduce problem gambling. The new regulatory system entitled bookmaking companies with the obligation to make assessments to the local area risk in order to lessen the harmful effects that addictive gambling has on vulnerable people.
The UK Gambling Commission announced this move back in 2015, after an industry consultation has been initiated in order to make the society more socially responsible in terms of the problem gambling issues.
Debates on FOBTs
A great deal of the debates have been provoked by the increasing popularity of the fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which fell under a lot of criticism due to the potentially harmful effects they could have on players. The machines were fist introduced to local players in 2001 and since then they have become pretty popular. Currently, they are found in a great number of betting shops across the UK and provide punters with the chance to place their bets on a variety of fixed-odds events and games.
Last year, the fixed-odds betting terminals around the UK accounted for an overall revenue of £1.7 billion. The maximum stake that punters are allowed to place amounts to £100.
Under current UK gambling legislation, betting shops are allowed to install a maximum of four FOBTs. When it comes to Scotland, all the major parties in the region, including the Conservative, Liberal, Labour, SNP and Greens, have agreed on certain terms which entitled the local Parliament with the power to reduce the number of FOBTs. Of course, the UK Parliament has the prerogative to decide if it will delegate some of its authorities to the local government.
The issues related to FOBTs in Northern Ireland have been heating up lately, as the campaign group Fairer Gambling has argued their legality due to the fact that the Gambling Act of 2005 applies to the territories of England, Wales and Scotland only. In November 2016, the UK Government revealed that it is to consider to eventually delegate matters related to fixed-odds betting machines to Wales in order to allow the local government to regulate the a of FOBTs in the region.
Lately, a number of regulatory authorities and non-governmental organisations have raised their voices against the fixed-odds betting machines, which are primarily found in poorer parts of the country and have been affecting thousands of players annually.
Gambling Addiction Problems in Wales
Earlier this year, several competent authorities and regulators in the UK expressed their concern with the increased popularity of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and their potential effects over local punters. In addition, it seems that the situation is getting more and more serious in Wales, especially with the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) commissioning and publishing more extensive information on the matter.
In September 2016, the UK Gambling Commission published more detailed data regarding the gambling participation and problem gambling rates on the territory of Wales for the first time in its history. The gambling regulatory watchdog revealed that over 4,000 people took part in the Welsh Problem Gambling Survey.
According to the UK Gambling Commission’s Programme Director for evidence and analysis James Green, the survey provided a great amount of information regarding gambling activity and problem gambling behaviour in Wales. This, on the other hand, would provide the gambling regulatory body with the chance to accurately face the issues in question and initiate some changes in gambling participation.
For some time now, gambling addiction experts have been claiming that problem gambling behaviour has been a huge problem in Wales. The Chief Executive Officer of one of the centres aimed at helping gambling addicts – the Living Room in Cardiff – has called on the local Government to take some measures and initiate a research on the matter. Wynfod Ellis Owen shared that the issue has never been brought out in public, and the local Government hardly even considered problem gambling as a priority topic.
Earlier this year some research showed that the region of Wales has a massive problem as long as the various forms of gambling available are concerned, and more specifically the fixed-odds betting terminals. According to the data included in the UK Gambling Commission, an overall of 61% of Wales residents have been involved in gambling activities. 63% of men and 59% of women who participated in the survey reported they have gambled in the last 12 months. In addition, it also became clear that the most popular form of gambling in the region to date is the National Lottery.
A total of 1.1% of the respondents to the survey were identified as problem gamblers, while 3.8% of the participants were considered to be affected by a low or moderate risk of problem gambling behaviour.
UK Government Measures against Problem Gambling
As mentioned above, the UK Government has been taking some measures in order to minimise the gambling-related harms that could be done to players. The UK Gambling Commission has initiated several surveys and research in order to get enough data to learn more about the problem in the different regions of the country.
In April, the regulatory system imposed certain measures that not only pushed bookmakers to identify and bar problem gamblers from betting, but also gave customers the opportunity to “self-exclude” themselves from betting shops if they consider themselves problem gamblers. The change basically means that gambling addicts will be given the chance to block themselves from betting in all betting outlets of the gambling operators in a certain area by filling in a special form and comes as part of the regulators’ policy to boost social responsibility on the matter.
The new scheme was run on some trials in 2015 with mixed results, so most of the bookmakers actually did nothing to prevent a person from gambling in their betting shops although he had filled in a form to self-exclude himself from gambling.
Earlier in 2016, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has published a general call for evidence especially aimed at fixed-odds betting terminals in local betting outlets, with the review covering the territories of England, Scotland and Wales. Thanks to the initiative, the DCMS is to review both the size of stakes and prizes granted by the FOBTs. The Department planned the review as a starting point of its policy to protect vulnerable people and children from the negative impact of gambling activities and advertising.
The Minister for Gambling in the country Tracey Crouch also entered the discussions, saying that it was crucial for the local authorities to find the right balance in order to keep the gambling industry as one of the major contributors to the UK economy on one hand, and make sure it protects customers in the best way possible, on the other hand.
In addition, the Government has been called to delegate certain prerogatives to local authorities in order to make them more efficient when fighting against problem gambling behaviour and its consequences. In the middle of November, heated discussions at the House of the Lords made the Wales government require to be delegated the control of the local gaming sector and to be entitled with the ability to control the FOBTs’ number in the region. The UK Government revealed it is to consider the resolution and the eventual effects that are related to such a decision.
Still, only time will tell how efficient the eventual measures regarding FOBTs and problem gambling will be. According to some experts, the measures considered by the regulatory bodies in the country came as a significant advance in comparison to the UK Government’s previous policy. Others believe that there should be more strict regulation on the matter, as well as a special charity funding initiative to help non-profit organisations that are focused on helping customers deal with their gambling additions.