There are no winners in a race to the bottom

Chris Murphy, Editor of SBC Americas, takes a look at some of the political infighting happening in the UK around FOBTs and suggests that the industry should be working with each other rather than against. 

The fixed odds betting terminal. Crack cocaine of gambling or simply a misunderstood gambling prodigy? Whichever of those two you agree with, or perhaps it’s something in the middle, there can’t have been too many game styles over the years that have divided opinion with such force, such vitriol.

At this point in the proceedings, I think it’s only fair to admit that I’ve written about the subject from both sides of the debate. As former Editor of the weekly coin-op title Coinslot it was my job to hound FOBTs, to publicly berate their very existence and highight things written in controversial tones about gamblers losing their kids’ shoe money on these insatiable, money-devouring machines.

Now, wearing my Sports Betting News hat, the tone has been altered to a more moderate flavour. I can’t quite shake off total uncertainty about the FOBT, but I do understand the need for a balanced, less hysterical way of looking at the debate than was encouraged by some stakeholders from the high street gaming sector.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a pyrrhic victory in a war that will have taken the UK gaming and betting business backwards by some considerable distance.

One view that I always held privately was that the coin-op industry should have just left the FOBT well alone. My theory was that as long as bookies retained access to higher stakes, there would always be a positive starting point when it came to negotiations over stakes for Category C gaming machines.

But it hasn’t been left alone; quite the opposite. As a result, the event horizon could feasibly be the introduction of a £2 stake for FOBTs. The coin-op sector will undoubtedly view that as a victory and a levelling of the playing field. Perhaps some punters might even migrate back to the adult gaming centres from whence they allegedly came.

But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pyrrhic victory in a war that will have taken the UK gaming and betting business backwards by some considerable distance. The latest report by the regulator on FOBT stakes was equally scathing about the Cat B3 machines operated largely in the adult gaming centres.

Let’s put that into context. Since the implementation of the Gambling Act 2005, the government has looked to the gambling industry to demonstrate exactly why it ought to be trusted with a more liberalised approach to regulation. Instead, it has squabbled and bickered, particularly over FOBTs. The debate may have been conducted in grown up tones, by men in serious suits. But all too often, the adult vernacular that is typically required when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of policy makers has been sorely lacking.

So where does the UK gambling and betting industry go from here? Having run their socks off in a race to the bottom in the war over FOBTs, it’s vital that stakeholders look to reshape the narrative on gambling to become more collegiate, more thoughtful. It’s time to generate more light than heat.

We work in a sector of business that has gambling at its core, yet is incredibly multi-faceted. If we are to convince the powers that be that we can be trusted with a less onerous regulatory regime, our approach must alter to clearly reflect that.