Betting or Gambling?

Betting or gambling? The two often overlap, but essentially there is a difference.

If you bet on something you are calculating odds. You’re using attention to form, your experience, a set of skills. Sometimes, of course, if ‘attractive’ odds on an event are offered you may take a gamble: though probability is against your winning, it’s not by any means impossible. People who bet once a year on the Grand National very often are simply gambling. They may pick a horse for its name, they’re not using the skills of a seasond bettor.

Buying a single National Lottery ticket is a gamble always (with odds of 45 million to one). There is no way of using skills to predict the result. While there are professional gamblers who use complex probability odds, for most of us a spin on a roulette wheel will produce a random result. There are various gamblers’ fallacies such as a near win suggests you are getting close to winning, or a number that has not come up for ages must be due soon. These fallacies ignore the fact that every spin is random. Each new spin has an equal chance of the ball landing on any number.

As said, the distinction between gambling and betting is blurred often. You can bet on the winners, losers or draws in six football matches but if you are predicting the actual scores you’re taking something of a gamble. (Though, currently, betting that Manchester City will beat Bournemouth 6-1 is a reasonable bet).

In the past, bookmakers’ premises were solely for betting. Although we still call them betting shops, punters have been introduced to a wide range of gambling as well as betting. There are ‘virtual’ horse races, for instance, screen displays of digitally designed ‘races’ (not totally dissimillar to those ‘derby’ races we played in amusement arcades).

The most controversial gambling products are Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, and the controversies are well known, explained on this site and in the posts. The most popular game on them is roulette, and they offer similar random odds. The difference between casino roulette and the achines is that the latter are designed for fast play, staking every 20 seconds if desired, and, critics suggest, with features as well as speed to entice players into a ‘zone’ where rational control is severely diminished. On a point of language, they are not betting machines and should rightly be called Fixed Odss Gambling Machines.

Outside the bookies, there is a growing normalisation of gambling and betting opportuniities. Many are concerned that the majority of these use consumers’ own digital devices such as smartphones. Saturation advertising on television and social media, it is felt, encourage ‘convenience’ gambling and betting. There is particular concern about the confluence of opportunities, promotion and normalisation upon young people, including children, whose social learning is sensitive to the environment. It is now easy to gamble on a fruit machine with children’s cartoon characters, or on a roulette wheel, 24 hours a day.

There are those who suggest that this is scaremongering, that individuals have choice and forms of betting or gambling are irrelevant. Probably the future for society comes down to policy makers betting on the risks, and gambling on kids’ wellbeing.

 

What’s all this Fuss about FOBTs?

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“What’s all the fuss about fixed odds betting terminals?” some people ask. It’s not uncommon to hear people say things like, “Well no one forces them to play.”

Others campaign fiercely to call for the machines to be banned completely or at least be very heavily regulated. This website gives a background to the some of the debates and controversies. The site’s Facebook account is a useful archive of recent items from research, the media and other sources.

If you haven’t heard of fixed odds betting terminals (or FOBTs) and are unaware of the issues you won’t be alone, despite massive media coverage in recent years. Bottom line claims that the machines found in high street bookmakers are addictive, unethical and dangerous pass under the radar probably for most people. After all, there are hundred of issues that people do not know or care about: humanitarian crises, wars, refugee displacement, famines; in the UK, poverty, homelessness, inadequate mental health services, misery caused by austerity and universal credit, women’s pension right – the list goes on.

This post focuses on just a few aspects of the FOBT debate and suggests reasons why it is an important social and political issue.

Fixed odds betting terminals are not betting machines at all. They are gambling machines. The most popular ‘game’ is roulette and each spin is unconnected to other spins. The fact that the machines allow £100 stakes every 20 seconds is one of the major causes of concern. An other is that the design of the machines, and the speed of play is itself the key factor in making them addictive.

Among those to speak out against them in the last week are the generally right wing ‘think tank, Res Publica and the conservative-leaning columnist Melanie Phillips who describes them as ‘wicked’. This is significant because generally conservative attitudes include a strong emphasis on personal responsibility, business freedom and minimal state intervention.

There are those outside the betting industry who consider the storms of anger against FOBTs as coming from  no more than ‘middle class do-gooders’ who are ‘jumping on a bandwagon’. Typical of these commentaors are the ‘libertarians’ Brendan O’Neill and Chrisopher Snowdon. There is also a strong narrative from the industry and its supporters that the campaign against FOBTs is the result of commercial competitors seeking to damage their rivals. The campaign ‘Stop the FOBTs’ is led by a millionaire who has made his fortune in gambling industries, and he is often the target of attack.

The ‘debate’ often appears as little more than a slanging match. Headlines and soundbites manifest polarised standpoints and drown out any more thoughtful discussion. There is, though, a lesser noticed side to the issue which is very significant. There are people who genuinely wonder what the ‘fuss’ is about. Often gamblers or betters themselves, or in recovery, they argue that so much attention to FOBTs is pointless since gambling problems have always existed and always will, that a gambling addiction is totally independent of any particular method of gambling, that people will always find a way to become addicted even if FOBTs were completely removed. Some of them point out too that exclusive focus on FOBTs diverts attention from much broader, serious and deep-rooted structural developments in gambling and betting industries.

And they are right in most of what they say. Except that nobody involved in campaigning against FOBTs believes that successful outcomes will remove gambling problems in general. There are many campaigners who are ‘ordinary’ individuals who have been badly hurt, sometimes ruined, sometimes on the verge of suicide, who bet and gambled normally until they were introduced to the machines, whose addictions to FOBTs is very specific. They bet and gambled normally until they were introduced to the machines. Becoming familiar with research to back them up, they point to evidence that the machines have addictive qualities, are dangerous, and deserve their popular epithet as ‘the crack cocaine’ of gambling. Such ‘hard gambling’, they argue, should be in casinos, not on the high street.

Succeeding in restricting the supply of cheap, high strength alcohol will not make a significant reduction in problem drinking. But it will be a statement. Similarly, the attention to FOBTs is the focus of general concerns about developments in gambling and betting, the weekly increasing markets, the television advertising, and most of all the alarming dangers of online gambling. The latter, conducted on home digital devices such as smartphones, reflects almost precisely the most dangerous aspects of addictive betting shop machines, it is claimed. The same fast speed stakes, the same features no coupled with enticements of ‘free bets’, and as a Sunday Times front page recently highlighted, a potential targeting of children.

As we await the Government’s triennial review on gambling when it is expected that action of some sort will be taken on FOBTs, perhaps no more than reducing the maximum stake to £20 or £30 (campaigners have demanded £2), it’s important to remember that in addition to addressing the harms of FOBTs, beneath this are much bigger stakes.

 

 

 

A Life Pervaded by Addiction: an interview with Joe

The common phrase ‘problem gambler’ is thrown about very casually as if the compulsive gambling behaviour that so many experience (about 5% of the UK polulation including the 0.7% of life threatening cases). Too often a person is defined as an ‘addict’ or a ‘problem’. People do have problems and addictions but to identify them buy labellig them only in these terms is dehumanising and wrong.

The way we all too often label people needs challenging. Hence we have anti-stigma campaigns. There are many such campaigns around mental health. People should not be labelled for many reasons: one is that it lessens or belittles them; another is that it isolates people by their being seen as ‘different’; a third is that negative labelling deters people from seeking help and support.

This interview with Joe reveals a life of suffering from compulsive gambling. Rather than facts and statistics, academic studies, medical discourses, we think it is essential and in many ways more powerful and relevant to listen to the unique, individual voices of people who face the danger of being boxed into a dehumanising label and stereotype.

What’s also brought out in this interview is that problem gambling involves far more than individuals who gamble. It includes the environment and culture. It also includes the design of gambling machines in our digital age – specifically, in Joe’s case, fixed odds betting terminals and online gambling.

Children Learning to Gamble

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In the digital environment – where some toddlers learn to use a digital device before they can talk – bright and cheerful interactive apps and games are the norm for children.

Go to an online gambling site for adults and you see the same sort of bright and cheerful apps and ‘games’. Roulette? You can play for free using virtual credits. Just a click of a button and you can play for real money. Children are no different from adults in enjoying risk, winning and losing chances, and are likely to be drawn to these games of chance.

In addition, the format of children’s games and gambling screens is blurred. A child who learns to love screen games is already primed to love online adult ‘games’.

The Australian Gambling Research Centre has published a worrying report:

According to the report, the fact that gambling and gaming have been mixed together means that gambling has been normalised for children. 

Young people are effectively being taught the basics of gambling at a younger age than ever before. 

But from making one click on your Facebook page, to one simple swipe on your smartphone, simulated gambling games are everywhere and they can be difficult to avoid.

Since television and online advertising for gambling is on the increase, and children today grow up in a world where televised football, for example, equals televised gambling, there is cause for concern.

Image Lee Davy