You’d think that such a strong gambling culture as that of England, Great Britain and the U.K. in general – but there’s one form of wagering that has citizens concerned about addiction: Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). FOBTs are small terminals on which games of chance are played. FOBTs may offer a number of games, including roulette, slots, bingo, simulated video game-style horse races – again, any game based purely on random chance. Roulette is by far the most common offering and choice on the FOBTs, due to the game’s appeal to the FOBT’s target audience; more on this below.
FOBTs were introduced to bookmaker shops throughout the U.K. in 2001. This early restriction of the machines to betting shops only was a prescient move, intentional or not, as European Union regulations banning electronic gambling games in public places, e.g. the good old neighbourhood pub, were entering into full force by 2006.
Specific to England, meanwhile, the Gambling Act of 2005 established a limit of four FOBTs per betting shop. The result of this act was a Starbucks-like expansion, whereupon a betting shop of the same brand name might have four locations on four corners of a city block – and, it might be pointed out, created a boomlet of job creation I the mid- to late 2000s. By 2013, a whopping 33,000-plus FOBTs were in operation in the U.K.
Due to growing pressure from some citizens’ groups and conservative MPs resulted in the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) offering a compromise solution: Bettors are given the option to set betting limits. Additionally, all FOBTs were to be programmed to warn the player if he/she spends more than 30 minutes or £250 on the machine.
At that time, Tory official called the self-regulation a “positive step” toward addressing citizens’ concerns, the people pressed on in hopes of further legislation regulating FOBTs. Long before the ABB acted had a scary factoid been circulating via tabloid and TV: The punter can wager £100 every 20 second. (Technically the figure is correct, but with limited payouts possible, it would be extremely difficult to blow said £100 quite that quickly. Point taken, though.)
As a result of this stat, citizens’ groups have proposed setting back the maximum wager allowed on the machines form £100 to £2, a proposal that is gaining steam among the populace – and may have gotten a bump from history.
A substantive governmental study into FOBTs was ordered by Parliament in September 2016, but it was the events of June ’17 that have likely doomed that £100. In June 2017, a stunning near-victory by the left resulted in a parliamentary coalition between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party. While the Tories had been notably blasé about addressing any FOBT-related issues, the DUP is one party with limiting that max bet high on its agenda. And any FOBT-regulating bill in parliament is unlikely to be blocked, with opposition parties Labour and the Liberal Democrats both pro-FOBT betting limits.
This is written from the vantage point of confused post-election 2017, and we still don’t know the medium-term effects of Theresa May’s cockup. It feels fairly well certain, however, that the days of the £100 FOBT wager are numbered; by 2020, a much lower max bet will be required. Although if you're waitng for a decision this summer, as all things with this governemnt, this has also been delayed until the autumn of 2017.
Indeed, detractors do refer to FOBT as the “crack cocaine of gambling” to purvey that bogeyman sort of feeling. One can see their point, but one wonders if some of those whose lives are ruined by senselessly throwing money at games of chance couldn’t be helped by those in their personal lives a bit more. One also wonders about the paradoxical acceptance of the bet shops themselves, but not this “crack cocaine.” So … it’s okay to metaphorically deal speed but not coke…?