So, here’s a thing. On April 1st this year a seismic event (probably an 8 on the Richter scale) took place in the UK gaming industry. The maximum stake on FOBT/B2 gaming machines was reduced by a factor of 50, from £100 a spin down to £2 a spin. This essentially removed the B2 machine from the market because, with a game cycle of 20 seconds it was never going to compete with a B3, or even a Cat C gaming machine.
Now, for the past several years all the support agencies in the UK and researchers specialising in RET together with many politicians were noting that the B2 game format was causing problems and it was cited as being a significant contributor to the rate of problem gambling in the UK. In fact as a then trustee of Gambleaware I once attended a meeting where we were told by a leading practitioner in the treatment of problem gambling that around 50% off all the cases they were involved in treating were showing specific problems arising from play on B2 gaming machines. I hesitate to call them FOBTs as that was what they were called before the 2005 Gambling Act classified them as Gaming machines. Further, a good friend of mine used to help at times with the Gamcare helpline and he told me that a majority of the calls that he took mentioned B2 machines either as being the start of a problem that subsequently escalated or were the principal problem for that individual.
I’ll get to the point that I am grappling with… Post April 1st I have attended the Gambling Commission launch of their ‘National Strategy for reducing gambling harms’ (why is there an S on the end of harm?), I have spoken to several academics and on a number of occasions have spoken to representatives of both Gamcare and Gambleaware and without exception they continue to state that they want the UK Gambling Industry to stump up even more money for RET, either voluntarily or in the form of a statutory levy. A leading academic was quoted just last week calling for ‘ a new gambling act and a statutory levy designed to bring in c£70m a year’. But surely, if B2 machines were causing such a high level of Gambling related harm(s) and were responsible for c50% of attendees at a well-known treatment clinic together with a huge number of calls to the Gamcare Helpline (0808 802 0133) then why isn’t someone suggesting that before we take any further decisions about any of these issues the first thing we should do is to survey gamblers and talk to those involved in RET (and also those who monitor self-exclusion statistics) in order to find out whether any of these statistics has reduced or is in the process of reducing post April 1st? Surely this is an obvious point, obvious anyway to any commercial mind (that if the environment changes for any reason then the first thing you do is survey and get a proper handle on the new landscape in which you are operating).
Put simply, if B2s caused such a huge number of problems and resulted in huge numbers of Self Exclusions then common sense would tell you that the number of UK Problem Gamblers is likely to start to diminish following their removal? If this is the case then it must have an effect on the size and type of the treatment facilities required. Ipso facto the need for increased funding must diminish, surely that is the case?
Am I alone in strongly believing that further detailed research should now be commissioned into problem gambling rates in the UK and run for long enough to establish a new benchmark from which can be extrapolated future trends and from that future resources and funding requirements?
Or maybe I am missing something?