Posted on the 1st May 2015

Stopping the FOBTs: How addictive roulette machines became an election issue

Three years ago, the word ‘FOBT’ to most people was relatively unknown. Even its Sunday name – Fixed Odds Betting Terminal – was a phrase most people would answer with a puzzled expression.

Today, mentions of the word ‘FOBT’ or ‘fixed odds betting terminal’ in Parliamentary business occur over ten times more than they did in 2012. Measures to restrict FOBTs were included in three of the five major party manifestos – Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP. In Scotland, the issue also made it into the manifestos of both Scottish Labour and the SNP.


David Cameron has mentioned FOBTs in Prime Ministers Questions. Ed Miliband went to Kilburn to witness first-hand the impact they were having on communities. The Lib Dems have called for them to be capped. Tom Watson MP has driven the issue through Parliament – right to the higher echelons of the Labour Party. 93 local councils have joined forces under the Sustainable Communities Act to demand the stake on them be cut.

So what are FOBTs? Often confused with fruit machines or one-armed bandits, FOBTs are in fact the electronic casino-style roulette machines in betting shops – on which it is possible to stake £100 on a single spin. They are particularly problematic because of their combination of high staking capacity and a much faster speed of play than traditional roulette. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling, our client, has the primary objective of reducing this maximum stake down to £2, which would bring them in line with all other easily-accessible gambling machines on the High Street.

Their availability too, is a big cause for concern. Each betting shop (you might have noticed a few more in your area in the past few years) is allowed to have up to four of these machines. The Campaign has calculated that a staggering £7.8bn was inserted into these addictive machines throughout 2014 – resulting in £1,565 million in losses. FOBTs have now sucked over £8 billion out of local economies since 2008.

It’s no surprise then that a) the bookmakers want to keep them for as long as possible and b) communities, councils and local authorities find them inherently problematic. The current government too, makes a substantial amount from taxing the bookmakers and their profitable machines.

So whilst there is a swell of support from a grass roots level, driving the issue through Parliament has been tough. For a long time the argument was that there was no ‘evidence’ that FOBTs were harmful or addictive – so we provided the evidence.

Then there was the ‘nanny state’ argument - that people should be responsible for their own actions and it wasn’t for the government to intervene. But we argued that the government had promised, with its own 2005 Gambling Act, to prevent harm to the young and vulnerable. We have amassed hundreds if not thousands of examples of where this has failed.

People started to listen to our arguments. The figures we compiled made national news – and were picked up by hundreds of regional outlets. On the back of a story last year, the Campaign appeared on every major news channel in the UK one day. Councils contacted us en masse to ask for help. Under the Sustainable Communities Act, we helped 93 councils join forces to demand that the stake on these machines be cut.

Last month, when the party manifestos were revealed, was a big milestone for the Campaign. There is still a long way to go – and some of the inclusions aren’t 100% what we wanted to see – but we’re there. It’s progress – FOBTs are firmly on the agenda in Westminster.

We don’t know what will happen on May 7th. But we do know that the Campaign – made up of its two founders, two consultants and the team at bcs Agency – has come a long way – and continue to be a thorn in the bookmakers’ side. FOBTs are becoming harder to ignore – and it will be an ignorant government that tries to brush a stake reduction under the carpet.

Want to know how FOBTs have affected your area? Visit www.stopthefobts.org to take action.