Limiting FOBT stakes not the answer to problem gambling

williamhillfobtOne of the key partners on the recently published research on FOBTs has said that limiting the size of stakes is not the way to deal with problem gambling issues.

Featurespace, the Cambridge-based technology firm commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Trust to conduct the most thorough investigation into problem gambling yet undertaken, analysed almost seven billion interactions between gambling customers and category B2 gaming machines and its findings may well transform how problem gamblers are identified and helped.

Featurespace says its report ‘Predicting Problem Gambling’ ‘shatters a number of myths around the issue’, and lays out methodology which can be used to identify problem gambling behaviours and significantly reduce their prevalence in the coming years.

The research was led by Featurespace founder David Excell, whose analysis brings unprecedented insight into problematic player behaviour, and means that it is now possible to predict when and how individual players are likely to be at risk of gambling harm. As a result, it makes it possible for betting shop staff to intervene before it happens.

Excell said: “There have been many fascinating insights that have come from this, the most detailed analysis of how gamblers behave that has ever been undertaken. What we have learned, and the model we have developed, should allow step-changes to be made in protecting those vulnerable to addiction from machines. By using technology to learn the behaviours associated with gambling harm, we can meaningfully impact a social challenge by predicting which players are at risk.

“For me, the leading take-away from the study is this: no single metric can be used to address problem gambling, which results from a combination of factors. There are interventions that will divert people from becoming problem gamblers, but each must be evaluated and tested for effectiveness according to the behaviour of the individual. In other words, the £2 stake limit often seen as the silver bullet is ineffective.”

While there were some results in another RGT report that suggested higher stakes do impair some decision making faculties, as did lower stakes to some extent, this was a lab-based study with  sample size of 32, which is actually on the large side for such an experiment. The study itself recommended exploring the findings in a more realistic environment and suggested further research in examining interaction of stake size with other game features, but campaigners against FOBTs have latched onto this one finding and are running with it.

Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales said: “It is clear that this report only has the interests of the industry at its heart. We were promised ‘the whole truth’ about fixed odd betting terminals (FOBTs) by Neil Goulden, the Chair of the Responsible Gambling Trust, instead we have a half-hearted and woefully inadequate attempt which makes absolutely no concrete recommendations. This report serves only to block any move that would hit the bookies where it hurts, on their bottom line. It does little to help problem gamblers, the communities they belong to or the nation’s high streets.

“The RGT’s own research acknowledges that high stakes impairs the decision making of players. So there is no denying that reducing the maximum stake of B2 machines from £100 to £2 would have a substantial impact on problem gambling, support our communities and would give our high streets a fighting chance of surviving the blight of betting shops cause by these FOBTs.”