Posted February 10, 2014 by John Baintree in News

The progressive face of gambling today?

FOTB machines
FOTB machines

Oh how the gambling industry has changed since recent changes in industry regulation! Do you remember the times when Blackpool was supposed to be reinventing its glorious self as the Vegas of the north east? Nothing seemed to come of the much debated developments on the Lancashire coast but while our attention was focused on donkeys and candy floss there were other changes taking place in the gambling world.

Following relaxing of industry regulation by the then Labour government in 2001, betting shops were allowed to change their formats but are these changes now beginning to go too far?  Once, euphemistically called Turf Accountants, betting shops were the prevail of gamblers who were interested in horse and greyhound (remember those) meets. In the days before the changes in the law, any other form of gambling in the local bookies would not have been considered at all.

Even after the 2001 changes there were still strict limits placed on the type of gambling that could take place in a betting shop. The restrictions said that gambling on events taking place in any shop was not allowed. Then, after a further round of relaxation of the regulations in 2005, bookies found they were able to host the arbitrary number of four electronic terminals in each shop.

Cue the really dramatic changes. Since then bookies have installed more than 330,000 fixed odds betting terminals or FOBTs as they are called in betting shops across the country. FOBTs (roulette wheels really) now dominate the betting shop landscape and earning an average of £900 per week each, they look set to continue their dominance but at what cost?

Undoubtedly the atmosphere in betting shops has become akin to that of your local amusement arcade, long gone are the days of the muted commentary from TV screens displaying the latest from that days meets. Betting shops are now filled with the flashing and blinking of these screens in what can only be described as hypnotic way. Politicians do seem to be waking up to the fact that these machines are causing problem gambling for a small minority of gamblers or that they may be an easy way for small time drug dealer to launder their profits so maybe further change is in the offing.

Perhaps, finally the large chains will be forced to change their business models, albeit reluctantly. Ladbrokes is reputed to make half its profits in the UK from FOTB machines. Maybe it is time to expect the return of the flutter on the 3.20 at Kempton to the bookies, leaving roulette to the regulated casino and the far less regulated home market.