For a decade since the financial crisis of 2008, the costs of paying for the damage done to the economy has been shifted onto the shoulders of those least able to bear them. Poorer people have seen wealth extracted from them in ever more inventive ways throughout the government’s policy of austerity. In the past decade, as communities have had the life sucked from them, new means of predating on misery and isolation have emerged.
Of these, none has been as effective in syphoning off money from society’s most vulnerable people as the fixed odds betting terminal (FOBT), referred to by gambling industry insiders as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling.
Currently the maximum stake on a FOBT is £100. Punters are able to bet every 20 seconds, and there are an estimated 34,000 of the machines across the UK. To say that the gambling industry’s future is dependent on these machines is something of an understatement – deregulation and the vast sums the FOBT can extract have seen a massive expansion in betting shops in the over the last 10 years.
Under the pressure of a review by the Gambling Commission, defenders of FOBTs have argued that were the maximum stake that could be gambled reduced to £2 then countless betting shops would close. This, of course, would be an unalloyed economic benefit to the communities they extract money from and the high streets that are crowded with them. Gambling companies have crammed already impoverished communities with betting shops in order to exploit the desperation and loneliness that poverty causes; a betting shop cull would give struggling high streets a chance to recover, and retailers who are actually capable of serving communities instead of exploiting them a chance to establish themselves.
Earlier this week came the disappointing news that the Gambling Commission had recommended to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that FOBT maximum stakes should to be cut to £30 or less. At the top end of this recommendation, a gambling addict could still bet £90 a minute. Campaigners such as the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, have claimed that the commission has surrendered to the needs of the gambling industry.
The government may yet impose a £2 limit on FOBTs, as the recommendation by the commission is only that. It requires, however, that everyone affected by this mercenary and pernicious exploitation keep up the pressure on government and fight to eradicate it.
We can all rest assured that the gambling industry is working overtime to achieve the opposite results, so complacency is not an option. Since 2012 the industry has spent £1.4 billion on advertising, hoping to find new gamblers to extract wealth from; they have extraordinarily deep pockets, the ear of decision makers, and they won’t simply take the money they have gained from FOBTs and quietly retire from the field. No, the gambling companies, like the punters they exploit, still believe that there is everything to play for and so we must match their determination and resolve.
Whilst justice, compassion and concern are on our side, it is not enough to be right. Change happens through constant pressure, organisation and solidarity, and it is this steadfast determination that power eventually finds it impossible to overcome.