This article provides an introduction to the focus of Beat the Fix AND a summary of our work over two years.
The central focus has been on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in bookmakers’ premises. These machines have proved to be very controversial. Allowing a maximum stake of £100 every twenty seconds, there is growing evidence that the devices (also known as FOBTs) are highly addictive. It has been claimed that up to half the people who use them meet the criteria for being addicted problem gamblers.
There have been many individual stories of suffering related to these devices. People in bereavement after losing a loved one to suicide, gamblers whose lives have been ruined, families devestated.
A great number of items have appeared in newspapers, radio and television over the years.
Many directly impacted have joined campaigns or taken part in vigorous social media discussion.
Influential people have spoken against FOBTs including journalists, celebrities, mental health experts, Church leaders, and politicians from all parties.
Against this, there are those who criticise the views if people above. They include reformed gamblers themselves who, for the best of intentions, say that it is the individual who is the only one to look at. They say that a gambler with problems IS the problem, and that restricting this or that gambling method will do nothing.
There are ‘libertarians’ and some conservatives who claim again that ‘personal choice and responsibility’ are the key issues. They point to business freedom and the income generated for the Treasury.
We at Beat the Fix have always agreed that FOBT machines are by no means the only area of concern in relation to digital gambling. Neither, importantly, are we at all anti-gambling or ant-betting. Yes, there have always been victims of gambling and betting, yet we are nervous that the problem will increase with the accessibility of digital devices. We all have a casino in our pockets now. You can play online roulette with up to £400 a spin via one of Britain’s best known companies who has added gambling to their portfolio. To that extent, the FOBT issue asks questions about the wider gambling and betting situation. Thus, our attention is drawn, for example, to online betting and gambling, the saturation advertising of betting on television sports programmes, and the blurring between children’s games and gambling.
We’d originally planned to provide a site which gives information about the FOBT debates and how this links to broader things like how parliament works, lobbying, the nature of campaigning and education. Regarding the last, we had intended producing learning resources. We’ve abandoned that, at lest for now, but we are in the process of producing a broadly educational textbook about digital gambling and betting. To be honest, having considered the mixed states of alcohol and drugs education in schools, we don’t feel able to make headway with stuff about gambling. There are various organisations doing this, and we’ll be describing them critically on this website.
What we’ve learned – and it has been very much about learning – is that it’s Twitter where most of the useful content is to be found because this ranges from individuals through politicians to specialists. To a large extent, this website has not tried to keep up to date with developments. We haven’t had time for one thing, and for another our website shares the fate of millions out there – it’s hardly ever visited.
Well, to return to the FOBT story, our director Martin got into this because he suffered badly, as did his family, from playing fixed odds betting terminals. As an individual over the past two years he has featured in my national, regional and local press articles; he’s appeared on BBC and Channel 4 television, and been interviewed on local and national radio. He’s also been invited to Parliament on several occasions.
It took a long time but eventually the government agreed to reduce maximum stakes on FOBTs from £100 to £2. This came about via the hard work and passionate commitment of individual ordinary people, campaigns and cross-party politicians. There is currently a big row going on because the date of implementation of this change is a long time away.
If you scroll through our Facebook page you’ll see links to many items from media and elsewhere as the debate unfolded. The website itself contains a basic introduction.
We’ll now be turning our attention to the dangers of online gambling and betting where ruin and misery are as inevitable as they are for some with FOBTs.
As a way of highlighting the effects of digital gambling on an individual, the other director, Adrian, has written a novel called Scotched which is out on November 5. He says it’s a great read even without the gambling stuff. But he can say what he likes as he’s writing this!