Experts are warning that the government’s strategy to help addicts stop gambling will simply shift the problem form one area of the industry to another equally harmful one. This warning comes as it emerges that nothing has been put in place to assess the new strategy’s efficacy.
Bookmakers have been recently made to reduce stakes on “crack cocaine” gambling machines from £100 to £2.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has not yet begun to track how gamblers change their behaviour and does not have plans to do so in the future. This lack of oversight may well mean the policy proves ineffective.
Dr Heather Wardle is a leading expert in gambling behaviour and welcomes the action being taken to tackle problem gambling. However, she said it was “deeply concerning that such a huge regulatory change isn’t going to be evaluated to better understand the full range of outcomes and impact on people’s behaviours”.
“You can only really do this effectively by talking to people themselves and understanding how these changes affect the way they think and feel about gambling and are motivated to change behaviours,” Dr Wardle said.
DCMS has recently released a report highlighting major flaws in the evidence relied upon to create the new policy. The Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) report suggests that as players shift their behaviour away from FOBT, other areas of the gambling industry stand to cash in on the £440m windfall.
Casinos and arcades may well be one of the areas benefiting from the new policy. Casinos and arcades house slot machines that have many of the same addictive features as FOBTs but are even faster than FOBTs and pay out less, so players can lose money on slots games just as quickly.
The RPC is an independent government body, whose role is to evaluate the evidence behind proposals. The RPC gave the £2 limit policy a green light, but did so with some major warnings about the evidence relied upon for the policy, saying it still had “significant concerns about the overall quality of the assessment”. Adding that stronger evidence was needed on “what behavioural changes the policy will cause, and what level of benefits this will generate”.
The RPC reveals in its report that the government knew about this problem at least a year ago: “The Department recognises that displacement to other forms of gambling might include significant substitution to other gambling products or outside betting shops.”
Mike Chatha is the author of a new book about the science behind gambling addiction and has been working with problem gamblers for 25 years. He said that any attempt to curb the issue of problem gambling needs to consider all forms instead of looking at individual products.
“You can’t regulate any addictive substance like that. You couldn’t tackle alcoholism by banning vodka. It’s just not possible.”