A controversial form of hard gambling which can see players lose hundreds of pounds in minutes should be banned from bookmakers. This is the stark conclusion of a report published today by the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee following an inquiry into fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
The Committee’s inquiry considered the Scotland Bill proposal to devolve powers to limit the number of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) allowed in new licensed betting premises. The Committee concluded that, given the high number of existing FOBTs in bookmakers, the Scotland Bill would not give the Scottish Parliament effective powers to tackle this issue.
Committee Convener, Kevin Stewart MSP
“Our Committee has been shocked by some of the evidence it has received about FOBT machines. We have heard how quickly and easily players can become addicted and lose hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds. The casino industry told us these machines are a form of hard gambling and unsuitable for the unsupervised environment of a bookmaker’s shop.
“We were given evidence about the clustering of bookmakers in some communities – for example, one parade of shops in Glasgow with three bookmakers each offering four FOBT machines – and local authorities have told us they feel powerless to do anything to restrict the number of bookmakers. Communities must be given the power to control this number. This is why we believe the planning rules have to be changed to give local authorities more control and the ability to address this clustering.
“The Scotland Bill proposals stem from a concern about the harmful effects of FOBTs but the Bill would not give the Scottish Parliament any real and effective powers to tackle these. The Bill simply does not go far enough.
“We believe that the maximum stake of £100 per game and ability to play 3 games per minute mean FOBTs are a form of hard gambling and must, therefore, be banned from the high street.”
The Committee also concluded that the Scotland Bill proposals would lead to an ‘un-even playing field’ and regulatory confusion between bookmakers licensed under the existing arrangements and those licensed after the Scotland Bill had come into effect.
In addition, the Committee argued the UK and Scottish governments must commission independent research into the effects of playing FOBTs and develop a policy to ensure play remains enjoyable and safe.
Failing the devolution of effective powers, the Committee recommended that local authorities’ powers to inspect and review betting premises licences be strengthened. The Committee also recommended that planning rules be changed to give local authorities more control over the number of bookmakers in local areas.
Fixed odds betting terminals, commonly referred to as FOBTs, were introduced in 2001 into licensed betting premises. FOBTs are gaming machines that allow players to bet on the outcome of various games and events with fixed odds returns. The most commonly played game is roulette, but other games include bingo, simulated horse and greyhound racing and a range of slot machine games. During its inquiry, the Committee heard evidence that these machines are sometimes referred to as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling.
Up to four FOBTs can be made available under a betting premises licence. During the inquiry, the Committee heard evidence that suggested there are around 839 FOBT machines in licensed betting premises in Glasgow, 421 in Edinburgh, 320 in North Lanarkshire and 316 in South Lanarkshire. FOBTs can also be made available in casinos and there are 10 FOBT machines in the 14 casinos in Scotland.
As part of its consideration the Committee launched a short survey to gauge wider public opinion on FOBTs. A summary of the summary responses can be found here:
Summary of Fixed odds betting terminals
As part of its inquiry, the Committee has already written to the Chair of the Review of the Scottish Planning System expressing concern that local authorities are powerless to prevent betting shops opening new premises. A copy of that letter can be found here:
Letter to the Chair of the Review of the Scottish Planning System