Britain at the Bookies

These past 3 weeks in the UK there’s been a decent programme on the BBC (for a change) called Britain at the Bookies. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend watching it:

Either on the BBC website here. Or if you can’t have access to that because of which country you live in then you can view it on YouTube here.

The programme shows a portrayal of the British public’s relationship with gambling. One of the UK’s biggest bookies; Coral, let the makers of Britain at the Bookies into its shops and head office.

One thing that surprised me was that Coral makes around half of their profits from their Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT) in their high street shops. (After some research, apparently slot mahines make up about 70% of the average US casino’s income).

What are FOBTs?

A FOBT is an electromechanical device that allows players to bet on the outcome of various games with fixed odds. The most commonly played game is roulette. Other games include bingo, simulated horseracing/greyhound racing, and a range of slot machine games.

The minimum bet per spin is £1 and the max bet cannot exceed a payout of £500. And, of course, the “house” (i.e. the bookmaker in this case) has a built-in advantage.

Adapted from Wikipedia article on FOBTs

And they look like this:

Ugly things

Half their profits come from these machines where each & every bet you place has –EV (negative expected value). Can you believe that?!

I find it hard to understand why people actual play these games in the first place. It’s not like sports betting you may at least think you have an edge. With FOBT you don’t. You will lose money.

I believe that the general population has a need for instant gratification. Instead of placing a bet on a game, and waiting for the game to finish. A FOBT provides an instant result. A FOBT just allows a mug punter to lose his money quicker.

There is a law that states shops are allowed up to four terminals. But the has been some calls for lawmakers to step up their regulation as FOBT are perceived to be highly addictive. They have been called the “crack cocaine” of the high street (apart from actual crack cocaine I assume).

I think some of the outcry against FOBT is due to what is seen and what is unseen. What is seen is a few bookies on the high street with four FOBT in each. Seen is people walking into these shops and then putting their money into FOBTs and losing that money (expectedly considering the -EV).

What is unseen is that you can play the most popular FOBT game; roulette, online on your PC/laptop/ipad/phone without even leaving your home. There’s all manner of ways in which to lose a load of your money online, and not just by gambling.

I’m sure that they have ruined lives…hang on, I’ll rephrase that, the FOBT haven’t ruin lives all on their own. People have allowed their use of FOBTs to ruin their lives. But I believe in individual freedom. And I don’t think the government should protect people from themselves. There’s an unlimited number of ways in which an individual can make poor decisions that affects their life. Whether it’s drinking too much, smoking, losing your money gambling, watching too much TV etc.

One thought on “Britain at the Bookies”

  1. I feel exactly the same way on this topic as you do. I actually consider the creep on personal freedom by governments to be a greater danger than problem gambling by a long stretch.


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