Labour Conference: Lessons from the Fight against Fixed Odd Betting Terminals

24 September 2018

Labour Party Conference

ACC Liverpool

SME4Labour together with the Labour Campaign for Gambling Reform hosted a panel discussion on the lessons from the fight against fixed-odd betting terminals with Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson, gambling campaigner Matt Zarb-Cousin and Bradford Councillor Richard Dunbar.   

The event was kindly chaired by Carolyn Harris MP

A selection of photos can be found here

Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, began the discussion on lessons to be learned from the fight against Fix Odds Betting Terminals. Mr Watson – lamenting his own involvement with it - explained that the 2005 Gambling Act was not fit for purpose, and had in fact ushered in a wave of gambling addiction in Britain. He recounted the ridicule and attacks from the gambling industry when he tried to draw attention to the continuous rise of gambling shops on Britain’s highstreets and the inadequacies of current legislation to contend with the issues of problem gambling.

In particular, Mr Watson highlighted the diffusion to gambling into daily life through an explosion of digital products. As live odds betting has – for some – led gambling to become an intrinsic part of supporting a team or following sport, Labour has called for a “whistle to whistle ban” on game betting, which has been well received by parents who have raised concerns on the subject.

Discussing the wider social impacts of problem gambling, Mr Watson highlighted that many problem gamblers gamble on debt, which can lead to dire financial consequences. Furthermore, the banking industry can take on responsibility, by allowing problem gamblers to voluntarily ‘self-exclude’. As an incentive and mark of trust, when a problem or ‘at risk’ gambler informs their bank not to allow the purchase of betting products from their account, their credit rating should not suffer.

On a positive note, Mr Watson remarked that the industry has begun to respond positively to proposed changes. There is a reputation risk for gambling businesses, and companies that believe in corporate social responsibility, and in responsible gambling can be a force for change. Moreover, when there is a failure in regulation, it is important for a party that believes in the empowering state to act quickly, decisively, and wisely. For this reason, the Labour Party is working on detailed proposals for regulatory and/or legislative change that could be implemented during the first session of a Jeremy Corbyn led government. Mr Watson ended his talk by highlighting the breadth of the issue:  430,000 gambling addicts in the UK, 25,000 of which are 16 or under, and 2 million further ‘problem gamblers’ who are at risk of slipping into addiction. We want to see people enjoying recreational gambling Mr Watson concluded, but we do not want to see lives, families, and communities destroyed by addiction.

The second speaker, Matt Zarb-Cousin, spokesperson for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, explained at 43% of fixed odds betting machine users are ‘at risk’ gamblers, and the vast majority of profits are generated from problem or at risk gamblers. Mr Zarb-Cousin described the campaign to change the maximum betting odds to £2 as an effective and specific request – one which could be enacted through secondary legislation.  They campaigned through the sustainable communities act, which allows local authorities to submit a proposal to change country-wide law. Alongside this useful piece of legislation, Mr Zarb-Cousin advised, other lessons that can be taken from the campaign are the importance of getting cross-party support and of not overlooking backbench MPs when sourcing advocates in Parliament.

Richard Dunbar, Councillor for Thornton and Allerton, Bradford Council, said he was glad that the argument around fixed odds betting terminals had opened up a wider debate about how to tackle problem gambling. In Bradford city centre, he noted, there are 12 betting shops within a 250m radius. Cllr Dunbar advised on three key points that could help local government tackle the spread of problem betting: firstly, local government needs more power from a licensing and planning perspective to restrict excessive clustering of betting shops. Secondly, local government needs more resources for planning functions. Since 2010, over 50% of planning resources in local councils have been cut, meaning that local councils often cannot afford to send officers to appeals. Finally, money for the treatment and care of those affected by gambling addiction should come through the local authorities to public health departments. Local authorities know their own populations best and are in a unique position to assist them.

Speakers: 

Carolyn Harris is the Member of Parliament for Swansea East and Chair of the Labour Campaign for Gambling Reform and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Tom Watson is Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport  

Matt Zarb-Cousin is a former spokesperson for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and currently spokesperson for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling 

Richard Dunbar is a councillor for Thornton and Allerton and spokesperson on problem gambling for Bradford Metropolitan District Council