Exposing the flaws in academic arguments

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In his January 2013 blog, “Terminal cases: Should virtual roulette machines be banned from high street bookmakers”, Professor Mark Griffiths presents flawed arguments, ignores relevant data and presents a view slanted to support the pro-FOBT status quo.

Griffiths explains that the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) showed that there was elevated prevalence of problem gambling among those who play FOBTs (8.8% compared to less than 1% for the whole survey). Griffiths also explains that high-time/high-spend gamblers with the most adverse socio-economic profile – for example, those more likely to be unemployed and living in low-income households in areas of greatest deprivation – have a relative preference for betting on FOBTs.

Griffiths then asserts that, “even if the evidence was more robust”, he would justify not banning FOBTs, because “similar types of games can be accessed far more easily via the internet and mobile phones in environments that are arguably less protective towards problem gamblers.”

Firstly, the Stop the FOBTs campaign is not advocating a ban, just a level playing field of stakes on high-street gambling machines at £2 maximum per spin; removing the bookies’ protected market monopoly of stakes of £100 per spin.

Secondly, the Campaign agrees with the Gambling Commission, which asserts that UK regulated remote (internet and mobile) gambling is safer than betting shop gambling. Age verification is very robust in remote gambling, compared to the pitifully poor restriction of underage FOBT access in betting shops. Self-exclusion is also much easier to apply for and enforce in remote gambling than in the betting shops, demonstrated by the 74% self-exclusion breach ratio of betting shops.

Also, remote gambling has a full record of gambler activity with that operator, unlike FOBT gambling which generally does not hold records for even one shop, let alone across an entire estate. This enables better stake control methods and intervention opportunities to address problem gambling; the very measures that Griffiths advocates in the FOBT code, which he helped to create.

Thirdly, Griffiths ignores the revenue comparison of FOBTs and remote games. Whilst FOBTs are annually generating over £1.5 billion, of which roulette alone is worth over £1 billion, all remote casino table and slot games combined are generating only £0.5 billion. With remote gamblers having a wealthier profile than FOBT gamblers, it is clear that the higher total spend on FOBTs (and far higher FOBT spend per gambler) is indicative of issues with FOBTs specifically.

With widespread recognition that high-spend is the most significant at-risk factor in problem gambling, it is clear that FOBT problem gambling is far more relevant than remote problem gambling on these game types, which is contrary to Griffiths’ implications.

Fourthly, Griffiths again ignores the money trail associated to problem gambling research, failing to allude to the secondary research on the BGPS, of which he was personally one of the authors. This showed that 23% of FOBT revenues were estimated to be from problem gamblers, increasing to 40% when also including at-risk gamblers. The estimated amount lost by FOBT problem gamblers was shown to exceed that of the combined amounts lost byproblem gamblers at several licensed bricks-and-mortar gambling activities.

Finally, Griffiths explains that problem gamblers engage in a number of gambling activities, implying that this somehow dilutes the impact of FOBTs. Furthermore, Griffiths ignores the most important research on this aspect, again based on the BGPS, but from 2007. This research showed that FOBTs had a stronger relationship with problem gambling than any other form of gambling activity, and to a four-fold degree.

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