Fixed Odds Betting Machines Crunch Time (update)

Minister meets with bookies today over FOBT criticism

Britain's Culture Minister, Helen Grant, says that bookmaking firms must release a fixed-odds betting terminal for research purposes after allegations that they have been reluctant to do so.

The machines, usually based in High Street betting shops, have become something of a political football as anti-gambling action groups, media outlets and opposition politicians have weighed in on the debate, pressuring the government to impose restrictions in terms of numbers and wagering/time limits.

Minister Grant is scheduled to meet chief executives of five of the biggest bookmakers today (Thursday) on the issue, and is reportedly set to demand that they release a machine for analysis.

In December the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT), a charity funded through industry donations, published research into gaming machines which did not examine FOBTs because "no bookmaker volunteered a betting shop for research".

The Guardian newspaper reports that Cambridge University academics also attempted to get hold of a machine to test players' reactions in 2012, but were rebuffed. Instead they were left trying to simulate betting shop gaming with computer terminals.

Adrian Parkinson, a high profile and voluble spokesman for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, told The Guardian that he had attempted to link machine makers with Steve Sharman, a psychologist at Cambridge University, who concluded that without a machine "they failed to recreate the equivalent live scenario that would be conducive to proper research. Put simply, they were not reflective of real gambling".

The newspaper claims that this apparent lack of co-operation has alarmed ministers, who have said they will wait for the conclusion of research by the RGT trust before considering a reduction in the maximum stake on FOBTs from GBP 100.

Researchers say the evidence suggests that the number of people addicted to the gambling machines represents less than 1 percent of the total number of gamblers, but they contribute up to 50 percent of industry betting revenue.

This week ministerial sources said: "Bookmakers are working to make a machine available for research purposes in a manner that is fair and impartial."

Today, the bookmakers will be expected to present plans to link players with data in a way to "understand player behaviour, and to assess the effectiveness of the harm mitigation measures being introduced".

A spokesperson for the Association of British Bookmakers has denied the industry had refused access to machines, adding: "The industry believes there should be a co-ordinated approach to machines research."

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