There’s often a difficult line to tread between having too few regulations and allowing people to be exploited, and having too many and treating people like children. One such area is gambling, you don’t want to stop people having a game of poker with friends or a flutter on the Grand National but is it right to allow people to lose thousands of pounds in a matter of hours using Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) on our high streets?
FOBTs are called the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling; in one year alone gamblers lost £3.6 million in Crawley’s betting shops. That impacts not only on those individuals but their friends and families, their performance at work and as a member of the community, and it results in retailers being priced out of the town centre in favour of more betting shops.
A few years back, we joined other councils in trying to trigger a change in the law to reduce the maximum FOBT stake from £100, one of the highest in the world, to £2. The work of Richard Thaler, who won a Nobel Prize for his contribution to behavioural economics last week, has highlighted both the irrational behaviour of most people when it comes to things like gambling and how we can affect that behaviour with nudges. Reducing the stakes would allow people to gamble, should they chose, but it would take fifty times as many spins and consequently they’re less likely to see it through.
Unfortunately, the Government has blocked our attempts and a much needed review has been subject to regular delay. This isn’t an issue which can wait, the damage to local families and communities is happening now. Whatever the pressure the Government is under from the Gambling Industry, the right thing to do is clear: we must reduce the stakes.