Apparently you cannot walk down a high street in the UK without being dragged into a bookmaker and forced to put all your money into an electronic gaming machine, writes Neil Goulden, chairman, Association of British Bookmakers (ABB).
At least that is one the various myths some anti-betting campaigners put around, and appear to be doing so again by re-launching a campaign in the next week or so.
Leaving aside the political donations and the political and commercial interests of those behind some of these campaigns – which are all in the public domain – the idea that eight million people should have their enjoyment taken away from them just because a couple of professional anti-betting campaigners disapprove of betting is obviously absurd.
Firstly, the Government is NOT consulting on whether to remove electronic gaming machines from betting shops, it is holding its regular consultation about the stakes and prizes offered on all gaming machines in the gambling industry, which is carried out every three years.
You can see this for yourself here: http://www.culture.gov.uk/consultations/9656.aspx
Electronic gaming machines have been in betting shops for over a decade – during which time no empirical evidence has ever been produced to support the anecdotal claims that they cause problem gambling.
Quite the opposite in fact - the most recent peer reviewed and independently produced research, the 2010 Gambling Prevalence Study, commissioned by the regulator, shows that there has been a 25% reduction in the number of problem gamblers who used gaming machines.
However, as responsible retailers we believe that one problem gambler is one too many which is why the whole gambling industry voluntarily donates over £5million pounds to help treat people with problems, and without that funding many treatment programmes and support organisations would not be able to operate.
Gaming machines have proven to be very popular products in the last decade, sitting alongside betting on sports events like horse racing and football or who will win the X Factor or be the Christmas number one.
They have been bringing in new customers to shops while giving existing customers a different product to enjoy while there.
The research shows that the majority of people who play machines in shops are actually in work, and have qualifications from A-Levels to degrees and beyond. Of those who are unemployed and gamble just 12% do so on a machine in a betting shop, and they are only the 10th most popular form of gambling.
Another great myth is that apparently people come into a shop and then constantly put £100 into a machine at a time every twenty seconds and then after an hour will have lost £18,000.
Aside from the fact it is impossible to credit a machine that quickly, the only way that could happen is if someone did indeed put £100 into a machine every 20 seconds, and then lost every single game over the hour. There is more chance of winning the National Lottery three weeks in a row than losing £18,000 in one hour on a gaming machine. Our own data shows that most players will come in, play for 20 minutes or so and then leave.
A further myth is that betting shops “target the poor”, only apparently opening shops in the most deprived areas of the country.
In fact, just like all other retailers, whether a newsagents, grocers, supermarket, coffee shop, record store or fast food outlet, a betting shop opens where there are the most number of customers, and as with any other type of shop, there will always be more betting shops in areas of higher population densities than lower ones.
Britain’s high street bookmakers have over eight million customers, employ over 40,000 people, contribute over £3billion annually to the UK’s GDP and pay nearly one billion pounds a year in taxes.
At a time when we have seen major high street retailers like Jessops, HMV or Blockbusters all close with the loss of thousands of jobs, it makes no sense to take decisions that would lead to the loss of 40,000 jobs on our high streets and lose a billion pounds of tax revenue a year.
We respect the views of those who have a genuine moral opposition to betting, but taking major decisions affecting thousands of staff and millions of customers on the basis of the objections of tiny handful of people and banning things just because a few people don’t personally approve of them is a very slippery slope to go down.
The views of our eight million customers should be listened to as well.
We look forward to submitting evidence and research to the consultation on stakes and prizes, and believe that Ministers will make any decisions on the basis of evidence and facts, rather than myths and exaggerations, as the Minister said in the House of Commons recently.