THE conviction of Mark Rutter for a vicious attack on two betting shop staff in Dalkeith is just one more example of the crime and disorder being perpetuated by Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – the roulette machines in bookies across the country.
Nothing can justify Rutter’s actions and he deserves the sentence bestowed upon him. But we need to understand what causes betting shop punters and, in particular, players of these machines to be driven to such anger that they explode with violence and aggression – because this incident is not an isolated one.
I helped to introduce FOBTs to betting shops in 1999 and that is one of the biggest regrets I hold from my 24 years in the bookmaking industry.
These gaming machines are not like “puggies” at £1 or £2 per spin. They allow bets of up to £300 per minute (£100 per spin) and the most popular game played is roulette. Yes, you can stake more on a single game of roulette in a casino, but the difference with FOBT roulette is that it is a 20-second spin, four-and-a-half times faster than live casino roulette.
Therefore, you are likely to lose your money four-and-a-half times faster. That is the crux of the problem.
This problem is further exacerbated by the bookmakers themselves, who are opening more and more shops with FOBTs in areas of high deprivation and preying on the vulnerable.
Research carried out by data analysis firm Geofutures showed that there are two-and-a-half times as many betting shops and FOBTs in areas of high unemployment compared to those with low unemployment.
In 2005, Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham University concluded in a paper on gambling and violence: “Customers are likely to become frustrated over losing money on machines. This may lead to aggressive and violent behaviour. It appears that gambling establishments may have higher risks of experiencing abuse, aggression and violence than many other business types.”
In London this week a court case is under way after a council, which has one of the highest claimant counts in the UK, said no to bookmakers who wanted to open another betting shop in a borough which already has more than 80. It is the violence, crime and disorder that FOBTs perpetuate which led Newham to challenge the bookmakers.
Betting shop workers have been trying to highlight the plight they face for the last few years. I turned whistleblower on the industry last year and appeared in the Panorama Gambling Nation programme, which lifted the lid on violence in betting shops. Machines and windows smashed, abuse hurled at staff and now physical attacks on workers such as that carried out by Rutter.
As long as FOBTs are allowed in betting shops, violence will continue to escalate, as this highly addictive product is turning people who enjoy a bet into problem gamblers.
There is a simple, sensible solution to the proliferation of these highly addictive machines – reduce the maximum stake in line with all other gaming machines in the UK to £2.
• Adrian Parkinson is a former betting industry insider who has held various senior management positions with national bookmakers. As a regional manager he was responsible for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals and was involved in their development from 1999 onwards. His extensive knowledge of the betting industry and in particular FOBTs gives him a unique understanding of the problems associated with them. For more information on his campaign, visit stopthefobts.org.