Are the machines really more addictive?
The Responsible Gambling Trust's study of Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) punters released Wednesday has the UK media expressing alarm at some of its findings.
The study of 4,000 UK punters, carried out by NatCen, revealed alarmingly high levels of problem gambling with the machines, The Guardian newspaper reports.
Researchers found that 37 percent of respondents experience "problems with machine gambling" somewhere between "some of the time" to "almost always". This compares to a problem gambling rate of 0.4 percent for all adults, according to 2012 government health studies.
The study also identified the major demographic visiting Britain's 9,000 betting shops as likely to be from poor and unemployment-plagued communities, the newspaper reports.
NatCen noted that "not all problem gamblers had very low incomes" but added that it was the case that "disproportionately more problem gamblers had low incomes than non-problem gamblers".
The study also found that "…high harmful gambling action and consequence scores had shorter session lengths, on average, than others: their average session length was around 13 minutes compared with around 18 minutes for other groups".
Anti-FOBT campaigners like Adrian Parkinson of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling have been quick to respond to the NatCen study, claiming that the data shows that these problem gamblers were depositing huge amounts of cash – GBP1,200 a week – into the machines. This from a group where a third of men had incomes of less than GBP10,400 a year.
"We've long argued that drug dealers who start money-laundering to legitimise their criminal earnings on FOBTs, especially the younger ones, very quickly get drawn into the addictive nature of high-stake roulette play. Combined with welfare payments there is a strong case that these machines are taking both illicit money and that of the state welfare system."
City analysts expressed concerns over the research results and the implication that industry self-regulation is perhaps not as effective as it should be.
However, NatCen itself says that the results have to be interpreted with "some caution" as the respondents were all part of a loyalty card programme, and this group "were heavily engaged in gambling".
Heather Wardle of NatCen said that the 4,000 people surveyed were not entirely representative of all gamblers, and that this would "skew the data". She said that the high levels of problem gambling reflected the findings of a very small sample survey in 2010.
"Unfortunately, we don't know enough about non-loyalty card holders to be able to weight the estimates back to a population estimate," she said.
"Given that this sample is skewed to those who are most highly engaged in gambling, the figures are broadly commensurate with what you might expect. For example, a 2010 gambling survey estimated that 13 percent of those who played machines on a monthly basis were problem gamblers."
An Association of British Bookmakers spokesperson said: "The industry welcomes the findings of this report and we will now use this evidence to help determine how the industry can further help those customers who may be at risk…
"We are pleased that this research has deliberately focused on regular gamblers, rather than the general population. Some of our members are already using gaming machine customer data to identify potential problems and, thereby better targeting customer interventions."
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