Appendix M: Anecdotal Evidence of Problem Gambling
Since the launch of our stopthefobts.org website the campaign for Fairer Gambling has been receiving testimonial evidence from problem gamblers and bookmaking industry employees. Many of these contacts, due to either the implications of their addiction or concerns about their employment, have provided their name and contact details to us and permission to use their testimonials, but with the guarantee of anonymity.
A selection of these testimonials are enclosed below as further anecdotal evidence of the impact FOBTs have, firstly on players and secondly on those working within the industry.
NB: All accounts are taken directly from the original correspondence and have not been corrected or the content edited in any way.
I write with fifty years’ experience of the betting industry. Since the introduction of FOBTs about ten years ago the whole ethos and atmosphere of the betting shop has changed radically for the worse.
I have witnessed at first hand despair, divorce and debt due entirely from these machines.
On one occasion one customer lost £8,000 in one and a half hours. He later lost his business.
I know of at least six persons who have lost in excess of £100,000.
I hope to meet shortly with my MP to discuss this matter.
- Retired Oxford betting shop manager
I started using the FOBT machines when I was 18 years old when it was introduced to me by a new college friend. It started off as a joke and a laugh, but I soon started to develop and appetite to gamble. I could never hold onto my winnings as it started to become a perpetual cycle very quickly.
FOBTs are a real problem and it's causing people to become addicted to gambling. I've seen the detrimental effect that it has on your spirited men and it's appalling that these machines are allowed to operate in their current capacity. I've had many conversations with young men and they find it very addictive and often shows signs of mental health issues by talking to themselves and profanity being used when the machine does something very weird. The Roulette game seems to be the most addictive game on the machines. The way the game is designed pushes individuals including myself to gamble all the money you have. The colours and the speed of play are highly attractive and adds to the addictive nature of the game.
I've lost over £150K in 8 years. I earn a good basic salary and good bonuses, but I still find myself out of pocket a few days after getting paid. I think FOBT machines should be members only and guest users should be given a maximum of £50 a day to play. There should be a maximum amount of spins per session and the max bet should be lowered even more to prevent huge losses and addictive nature. Online doesn't have the same effect as you don't get the money straight away. Last month I lost over £3.5K on the machine alone. FOBTs are death traps, family destroyers and a danger to the economy and young people. Due to gambling I have become numb to the value of money and FOBTs are the reason why I started.
“I just found your campaign website. It is refreshing to see you take the issue of FOBT's to hear and I would like to participate and offer support.
“I live in Gosport, Hampshire and my MP is Caroline Dinenage (conservative). I am 32 and I have been a recovering gambling addict for many years.
“One issue is with the Betfred in Gosport high street now offering a cash machine in its lobby conveniently located beside 3 of the 4 FOBT's. I know gambling requires cash but in my opinion this is 'too convenient'. I know from experience I could start to lose my head through frustration and max my daily limit out or even worse ask for cash-back from the cashier on my debit card. From a business perspective great for revenue but shameless on responsibly.
“Many times I have been in this shop and the Ladbrokes down the high street and notice that most of the gambling activity is on these FOBT machines and not horse or dog racing. I am sure there is a pattern across the nation that the majority of the business done in betting shops is through the FOBT's.
“I know the Gaming Commission says as long as there is a demand for these machines there is no issue but I believe with the advertising in the shop windows they are creating new addicts all the time. My interpretation is the government could say a drug dealer is only allowed to enter a community if it can prove he can provide a sustainable clientele and provide us (the government) with our piece of the pie in tax. The reality is that both activities are harmful because the money is not going into the retail shops and restaurants in the community and can harm families. Isn't it time for the government to admit that casino games are harmful and belong in a casino. Bookmakers should be only offering odds on races and sports in my humble opinion.
“I believe there is a unhappy silent gambling public out there that needs to know the government are prepared to be more responsible and do something to lesson the flavour of gambling in the high streets. Many like a social punt on the horses but the power of FOBT's are a powerful distraction away from this. Action is surely required!
“Please also if you have time check out James Petherick on Facebook and Youtube, he has something called Diary of a compulsive gambler and it shows a handheld camera account of his day-to-day struggle with gaming addiction. Here is a link www.youtube.com/user/JamesPetherick
Many thanks for your time and kind regards,
Anonymous testimonial & Youtube video March 2013
“My addiction began in 1999, when I was 15 years old and in the final year of formal schooling. After lessons had finished, I would visit the Ladbrokes at the end of the school road and play a fruit machine. This simply began as curiosity. (I recall now, with some irony, that the name of the machine was ‘Pipe Dreams’.) I was never challenged on my age.
“The addiction worsened when I began sixth form, aged 16, and started to earn my own money working in a local store. My behaviour became so effectively conditioned by these fruit machines that I began to steal from both that shop and my parents in order to fund my habit. It was around this time that I began to experience suicidal thoughts as a result of my gambling.
“By the end of sixth form, my addiction to these machines had led to my moving from AS Level scores of ABB to A Level scores of CCD. Nonetheless, I narrowly secured a place at university. (I have a verbal IQ of 140, and was granted admittance to an Analytical Philosophy BA based on a personal statement.)
In order to maintain my addiction, I deferred this place at university by two years. I began working for William Hill as soon as I turned 18, despite having already been well known to most of the local staff in these shops as a (previously underage) problem gambler. It was around this time (2001/2) that FOBTs were introduced.
“My first FOBT experience saw me win over £900 over the course of a few hours. I was—remarkably—only betting on three numbers and didn’t really understand the mathematics of roulette. (To this day I remain convinced that, early in their introduction, FOBTs were in fact fixed to win, in order to create addicts.) This was the basis for what would become a full-blown addiction. In 2001, I left William Hill by mutual agreement (i.e I was not ‘sacked’ due the nature of my problem) when I was caught laying a ‘late bet’ in order to fund a FOBT playing session. (I should stress, there is nothing in my nature that could be described as ‘dodgy’ – I was a rubbish thief because there is no malice or will-to-deceive in me at all.)
“In 2002, I secured a role in the Civil Service as a Case Officer; A significant achievement for a 19 year old. Fortunately, my journey to work (and place of work) meant that I was not given the opportunity to enter a betting shop. This changed when I transferred to Angel, Islington in 2003. Here, I would generally lose most of my wages in the local Ladbrokes within the first working week of each month. The rest of the month’s working days were often spent without my having eaten until I got home. It was at this time that suicide became a realistic option, and I began to dedicate time to imagining the best way of going about this.
“In 2004 I entered university. Due to the location of my campus, and the other distractions of University life, I managed—thankfully--to avoid betting shops altogether. Though lost quite a bit of my money in fruit machines.
“After having graduated with a high 2:1, I rejoined the Civil Service at a higher grade in 2008. This was when my addiction to FOBTs really stated to take hold. I began to undertake intense sessions of gambling where I would lose anything up to £300 in the space of a couple of hours. My bank statements from the last few years testify to the irregularity of my behaviour: I often lost around £100 in (approximately) 15 minute time periods that included 4 or five trips to the cash point. (The corollary being that I was in fact spending more time walking to and from the cash point that I was spending at the machine.)
“Now with a good job and good credit history, I was able to take loans in order to fund my addiction. (My present debt level stands at £8,500.) Alongside the money problems, I also began to become acutely aware of the psychological issues I was suffering as a result of my addiction. I had already experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of gambling, but now the effect of this activity on my behaviour was becoming more externalised. I began to notice, for instance, that immediately before and after, and especially during FOBTs sessions, I was completely incapable of constructing intelligible sentences (either to fellow punters or to shop staff.) My thoughts—whilst I was playing the machines—had become muddled, confused. In the worst instances, it was as though my consciousness had become detached from my body and I was being forced to watch myself self-harm.
“More worryingly, whenever I had just experienced a heavy loss, I began to develop a deep desire to harm or attack those who had profited from my loss. (Namely, industry bosses.) Once I had calmed down, this scared me; I have never committed—nor wished to commit—a violent act, and have absolutely no criminal record.
“It was only once I looked into the psychology of gambling, and specifically the techniques of Operant Conditioning, that I understood what had been happening to my brain: how I had been manipulated, exploited from a very young age. This self-education was enough to prevent my ever entering bookies again. It is seven months since I last used a FOBT, and there is absolutely no possibility—given what I now know about what the industry is really all about—that I will use one again.
Anonymous testimonial 2, February 2013
“Firstly, thank you for starting this campaign. I am with it 100% and offer my services in any shape or form that can assist. I lived in NZ for a number of years, and have always gambled but never thought I had an addiction. 2 years ago I returned and started playing these machines. It is a similar story as you will hear all the time. It starts with small bets, and eventually 100 pound spins losing thousands. I won't go into it too much, but these machines are terrible and I know and have seen many more people like me that can't walk past a bookies without donating money to the bookies relief appeal. I am now in remission and have counselling. These things very nearly killed me, and I’ve lost most of my family. I am sick to death of bookmakers opening new shops and advertising constantly. This country is turning into 1 big casino. I am happy to provide further info if required. Thank you for taking the time to do this.”
Anonymous testimonial 3, February 2013
I have seen and welcomed your stopthefobts website and campaign. I would like to tell you about my experiences with FOBTs. I worked for Ladbrokes for 23 years, for 17 years I managed their busiest shop in Coventry in an economically challenged area.
For the majority of my career I was happy, I had built up a good relationship with the customers. It was a high slippage, moderate turnover, and high profit margin shop. With only a few exceptions the customers viewed their gambling as an enjoyable pastime which they were willing to spend money on in the hope that one day they get a decent win on their Yankee or lucky 15, which they invariably did.
The introduction of FOBT gradually changes the dynamics of the shop. First to suffer were those traditional customers who became addicted to these machines. I was horrified to see customers whose daily spend over the counter might be £10-£20 risking similar amounts of money on a single spin of a roulette wheel. When the main local employee closed it was sad to see peoples redundancy packages vanish into these machines. It was depressing to watch people that I had known for a long time lose lots of money on these machines rejecting any offers of help.
If these machines were making my job depressing, the next development was for them to make my job, at times, frightening. In my first 14 years in that shop I had no need to call the police during trading hours. In the last 3 years there were two armed robberies, machines smashed up, doors kicked in, and underage and self- exclude people refusing to leave the shop. You see the machines had become one of the focal points of the local gangs and disaffected youth of the area. Individually these people were fine to deal with, but collectively they were a nightmare. Locals told me that they were responsible for both armed robberies although I have no proof of this.
You may imagine my horror, then, when in December 2011 Ladbrokes proposed a new operating model. Some aspects of the new operating model were worthy, such as moving a vast number of the workforce away from minimum wage levels. However the company was not willing to pay for this worthy aspect (despite it being the first wage increase for 3 years), the cost wold be met by single staffing shops from 5pm to 10pm. I rejected the new terms and conditions to my contract
On the question of FOBT I intend to argue that they are responsible for a proliferation of violence and bad behaviour in betting shops, and also that it is impossible to manage problem gambling and underage gambling on these machines.
Anonymous testimonial, April 2013
“I would like to suggest that FOBT terminals should be banned by the Government, or at least capped or controlled in a way they are not currently. However as the revenues (20%) of which I believe go to the taxman are so high, then I can understand why the Government has not done anything about these yet.
“I have played these machines since they hit our high streets approximately 10 years ago. You can win big on them, but on the flipside you can also lose big and that's the main problem. Most wins a player manages to collect are soon given back in the long run as the machines are so addictive. One week I was over 10,000 pounds up. It was soon lost in the next fortnight.
“The main problem is the capping at 100 pounds a spin, although this limits how much a player can lose it also limits how much a player can win. For example if a player goes 2,000 pounds in the most they can win back in one spin is 500 pounds. This makes the player chase their losses and it’s very hard to claw back any loss this large.
“One point I would also add is that in a casino if you bet on the even chances and zero green comes in you receive half your stake back. In bookmakers this is not the case, you lose everything. This is yet another edge the machines have over a player. I used to go to casinos but after many losses I self-excluded myself to stop the rot so to speak. In a casino you have to physically make the trip, sign in, and you have time to see what's happening on a live wheel. In a bookmaker you can find one anywhere, they don't sign you in and it's very easy to spin a lot of money off very quickly indeed. I would suggest the machines in the bookies have to be banned.
“Problem gambling is increasing hugely because of these machines and it's ruining people's lives. They are so addictive and there are many people getting drawn into playing them through sickly 'free spin' promotions the bookmakers use to lure in their prey. I hope this helps.”
Anonymous testimonial, February 2013
“I have seen and welcomed your stopthefobts website and campaign. I would like to tell you about my experiences with FOBT. I worked for Ladbrokes for 23 years, for 17 years I managed their busiest shop in Coventry in an economically challenged area.
“For the majority of my career I was happy, I had built up a good relationship with the customers. It was a high slippage, moderate turnover, and high profit margin shop. With only a few exceptions the customers viewed their gambling as an enjoyable pastime which they were willing to spend money on in the hope that one day they get a decent win on their Yankee or lucky 15, which they invariably did.
“The introduction of FOBT gradually changes the dynamics of the shop. First to suffer were those traditional customers who became addicted to these machines. I was horrified to see customers whose daily spend over the counter might be £10-£20 risking similar amounts of money on a single spin of a roulette wheel. When the main local employee closed it was sad to see peoples redundancy packages vanish into these machines. It was depressing to watch people that I had known for a long time lose lots of money on these machines rejecting any offers of help.
“If these machines were making my job depressing, the next development was for them to make my job, at times, frightening. In my first 14 years in that shop I had no need to call the police during trading hours. In the last 3 years there were two armed robberies, machines smashed up, doors kicked in, and underage and self- exclude people refusing to leave the shop. You see the machines had become one of the focal points of the local gangs and disaffected youth of the area. Individually these people were fine to deal with, but collectively they were a nightmare. Locals told me that they were responsible for both armed robberies although I have no proof of this.
“You may imagine my horror, then, when in December 2011 Ladbrokes proposed a new operating model. Some aspects of the new operating model were worthy, such as moving a vast number of the workforce away from minimum wage levels. However the company was not willing to pay for this worthy aspect (despite it being the first wage increase for 3 years), the cost wold be met by single staffing shops from 5pm to 10pm. I rejected the new terms and conditions to my contract and in September 2012 my contract of employment were terminated by Ladbrokes due to my failure to agree to the new terms. I submitted a claim of unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal. This claim has been accepted and the case will be heard in Birmingham in the middle of June.
“I believe it may be difficult for me to win the case as Ladbrokes will argue that there was a substantial business reason for the new operating model and that over 99% of affected employees signed up for the new terms (although the choice was either accepting the returns, getting a wage increase and a cash payment or not accepting, not getting a wage increase or cash payment and facing contract termination). However I intend to fight the case to the best of my ability.
“On the question of FOBT I intend to argue that they are responsible for a proliferation of violence and bad behaviour in betting shops, and also that it is impossible to manage problem gambling and underage gambling on these machines. I need evidence and witnesses to support these arguments and I was hoping that you may be able to help me or provide some advice. Of course please don't hesitate to ask if you feel I can do anything to help your campaign. I look forward to hearing from you shortly.”
Anonymous testimonial, February 2013 17:03:04 GMT
“I work for Betfred and we have been told to write to our MPs to stop the new FOBT regulations, telling us that we will all lose our jobs if they have to close the shops. We work on our own every day from 6pm-10pm and it can be terrifying!!
“Please do something these people are making our lives a misery (I mean the bookies, not the punters). We have FREE TOURNAMENTS every month and sometimes even more frequently just to get customers hooked and if you don’t get enough people interested you get a b*ll*cking.
“If somebody gets caught out on the Think 21 you just get a slap on the wrist from the boss. The adverts on TV make gambling look glamorous, there is nothing glamorous about a high street betting shop. All the bookies are the same it breaks there heart when a punter signs the ”self exclusion form”. Bookies are a licence to print money and they don’t care how they get it. I am glad that I am near retirement.
Anonymous testimonial, March 2013
If you need evidence to back up your evidence that FOBTs are addictive, then I can tell you these machines have worsened my addiction over time.
I can literally spend £300-400 on a machine. No staff give advice, even though they get to see the same familiar faces. Staff training is a joke, nobody looks in the self exclusion folders that gather dust in a cupboard.
The flimsy measures that are supposed to prevent and even help compulsive gamblers are lazy at best. I have hit rock bottom so many times, because of these awful machines. The proof that these machines are harmful is already out there. I see it whenever I go to the bookmakers, the same faces playing, the same staff and same poor messages of responsible gaming.
How can gamblers be responsible, when the government and the bookmakers are anything but?
Anonymous, FOBT addict since 2005
As someone who has worked for Ladbrokes as a part-time cashier for nearly 8 years, I agree totally with your recommendations regarding Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, as shop staff see on a daily basis just how toxic these things are. However we rarely get asked for our views.
I started in the industry when we opened around 9.30/10 am and shut about 6.30pm but it’s become so much worse since then and an age of untold greed, arrogance and bullying from betting shop management due to the vast profits FOBT machines generate. Earlier opening, later closing, with at least one Ladbrokes I know of that closes at midnight!
Employees have never been asked if they want to start earlier /work later and management just take the attitude if you don’t do it they’ll find someone who will. As I’m sure you are aware bookies introduced single-staffing in order to make even more money from FOBTs despite staff and Unions saying that it left workers open to an increased threat of verbal and physical abuse. Many said a member of staff may be murdered when single-staffing was introduced and were ignored and as you know it happened in May this year in Morden south London and despite that Ladbrokes didn’t even have the decency to at least temporarily suspend single-manning. In fact they now want even more as my shop has been told they now want another 10 hours single-manning per week.
Hills now has plans to take cashiers away from managers in the evenings and leave them to lock up alone with thousands of pounds of (mainly FOBT generated) cash, despite saying about a year ago they’d never do it .It’s only because they’ve seen Ladbrokes get away with it that they’ve now introduced it.
I know of one Ladbrokes that was robbed so, as is company policy they went back to double-staffing for 6 months. However when the 6 months was up and staff complained that they no longer wanted to work alone, their fears were not listened to and they were simply transferred to other shops!
Sorry for the long winded post but basically what I’m getting at is could you add a total ban on single-staffing in betting shops to your list of recommendations as this policy is a direct result of FOBT machines.
Anonymous, Ladbrokes Worker October 2013
“I know a great deal about the betting game and now as an independent Scottish-football odds compiler and Scottish football punter, I cringe and want to scream out loud as I watch another sad case succumb to the disease that is the FOBTs.
“I loved the betting shop buzz "independent and hands-on". I cared about my customers - some of my punters were also my friends - quiet words in guys ears if I thought betting was a tad excessive, which could have led to social and family problems !!
“YOU SIMPLY VALUED YOUR CUSTOMERS! Prior to 2007, some years before, the buzz was waning, the industry demanded, longer hours, 7 day, 7 night trading. The fun was diluting and FOBTs were emerging - the emergence of these machines scared me. Such was the impact, shops opened next to shops, next to shops. The proliferation of cluster shops was born, the rest is history - FOBTs have taken over.
“In the mid - to late 90's and into the early 2000's betting shops had a ball, fun places to be and betting tax abolished. Punters are often the optimists and generally relate to winners and profitable days. Chat involves smiles, laughs, run of the mill banter. “ALMOSTS, SO CLOSE , BEAT A SHORT HEAD , CONCEDED AN INJURY TIME GOAL”, but all good fun and within reason.
“FOBT players seldom smile, reasoning is non-apparent, they are caught up in the moment and certainly lack cohesive dialogue. The furrowed brows and nervous demeanour often leads to mild violence with regular disgusting expletives!!! It is very safe to say I am no Psychologist - it is also very very safe to say the atmosphere, friendships and camaraderie of bookies and punters of the ‘90s has been totally eradicated by the compulsive and addictive FOBT - THE BOOKIES CASH COWS !!
“It pains me - but today's betting shops are no longer nice places - FOBTs have seen to that.”
Colin Ross a retired-Bookmaker from Aberdeen, December 2012
"There are 52 betting shops in my constituency, central Manchester and more on the way. Bookmakers with their addictive high stake, hard core gaming machines are preying on the most vulnerable in society. It has to stop and that is why, with the help of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, I opposed the 53rd shop planned by William Hills in Manchester. The proliferation of FOBTs on our high streets must stop - Government must act and give power back to Councils and their communities. Please support stopthefobts.org"
Endorsement from Councillor Kevin Peel (Labour), Manchester Central
I've worked in betting shops as a Manager for over twenty years, I used to love the industry, the atmosphere in the shops, my customers, the banter and the laughter. Since FOBTs were introduced the atmosphere has changed drastically…
I see so much more anger, frustration, and heartache as people lose money they can ill afford. I struggle with my conscience daily but like everybody I have bills to pay, I also hang on to the hope that one day things will change and betting shops will once again be a happy place to work and a happy place for customers to spend some of their spare money and leisure time.
Something has to be done, I believe the FOBTs are highly addictive to a lot of the people who play them, I see this daily, I am not a figure on a spreadsheet that can be twisted or manipulated to fit an argument, I am experiencing this first hand, I am a witness to this problem. Lowering the maximum stake would have, I believe, a positive impact, it would mean such large sums of money could no longer be lost in such a short space of time. It would give people time to think about what they are doing before they lose everything on one spin of a virtual wheel. I wish you every luck with your campaign.
National PLC manager with over 20 years experience
Having watched the BBC programme 'Inside Out' on Monday I must also add my concerns to your own concerns about addiction to FOBT machines. I myself joined the betting industry in July 1973 in North London. Betting offices have changed dramatically since those days. Highlights of those changes are the introduction of live TV coverage, the open glass fronts of the once 'shady and dark looking shops'. Introduction of the evening opening of shops, numbers betting and fruit machines.
But amongst all of this there was the fact that customers were happy with their bets on the horses, football, dogs and the fruit machines. There were friendships built between myself and some customers. A few years after the turn of the century, there came along these Fixed Odds Betting Terminal machines, which became popular very quickly. Mainly roulette was being played. It became apparent to me that some players were spending hours on these machines, non-stop.
I would not have the constant contact with the customer, as when they would come to the counter, place a bet and exchanges would be given. In my own experience as a Manager I did see machines being damaged by players in their frustration of losing. For some, these FOBT machines became an addiction. It made the atmosphere uncomfortable in the shops, not only from the staff's or lone staff's perspective, but of the more established non-machine playing customers.
I retired from the industry after 34 years. Yes the longer working hours were 'biting' but the FOBT machines were a big factor in my decision. Something needs to be done to help those whose lives are being affected by the FOBT machines which have taken over 'Our High Streets' causing unhappiness for many.
Peter Irvin, 34 years a betting office manager
Anonymous, Ladbrokes Worker October 2013