Good riddance to FOBTs
The government’s announcement that the maximum stakes for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) will be £2 heralds the end of a sorry chapter in retail bookmaking.
As FOBTs came under increasing fire for contributing to problem gambling and addiction, the bookmakers’ PR machines and lobbyists were defending something akin to the indefensible.
The introduction of the gaming machines described as the crack cocaine of gambling was a sad departure for high street bookmakers, with shops opening purely to provide installation sites for the machines which could rid punters of hundreds of pounds in minutes. And, like all gaming machines, the odds were stacked in favour of the operator.
People who wanted bookmakers to be bookmakers disliked the machines which had an invasive presence in shops and ran the risk of desperate people venting their frustration on the machines and putting customers and shop staff in danger.
Offering bets on a sporting event for which an element of skill was involved and where it was possible for the punter to win seemed to play second-fiddle as layers became increasingly reliant on FOBTs and averse to their own businesses taking a risk.
The consequence of the reduced stake, argued the bookmakers, was that jobs would be lost. Sadly, that is the case, but people were employed on the back of the rapid expansion of shop openings, many manned single-handedly at times, to house the FOBTs and this too came under attack in areas where it was felt the high street didn’t need more betting shops.
The pressure told
And FOBTs were constantly at risk to regulatory control and far too much dependency was placed on them despite opposition from those concerned at the damage they perceived the FOBTs were causing. That pressure eventually told and there was seemingly no plan B in place for bookmakers where the anticipation of a reduction in maximum stakes had been on the cards for many months.
Question marks too for the funding of racing where contracts for media rights were based on the number of batting shops taking live racing coverage. Even if those who negotiated the deals didn’t see the clampdown of FOBT stakes coming, there’s a degree of naivety to be involved in a deal that’s centred on retailing which is in decline across Britain’s high streets.
So, notwithstanding the potential job losses, it’s good riddance to FOBTs, to betting shops which were nothing more than high-stake amusement arcades and a business model which reeked of cynicism.
Maybe bookmakers can revert to laying odds, stop referring bets to ‘traders’ when a punter wants to get on, and the number-crunchers will realise that bookmaking involves risk and refusing to enter into risk means losing customers and revenue.