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No tears for betting job losses

On 4 July 2019, William Hill said it will close 700 stores, about a third, with the loss of 4,500 jobs. Other betting companies have made similar noises.

It blames this on the reduction on the maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals (FOTBs) from £100 to £2 per game. A game takes 20 seconds. Under the old limit, someone could stake £300 a minute. As with all gambling, this money is usually lost.

Naturally I am sorry for staff who lose their jobs. They are probably ordinary people who see it as no different from working in a shop. But I shed no tears for the gambling industry.

We need to consider a fundamental issue of what wealth is and where it comes from.

A person is gainfully employed if either they create wealth, or they improve the quality of life of others. So a farmer creates wealth by producing food. A doctor improves the quality of life by keeping people alive and well.

Betting neither creates wealth nor improves anyone’s quality of life. A small flutter may be seen as a form of entertainment, but FOTBs go beyond this. They are highly addictive. They have not been outlawed; they have been regulated to make them less destructive.

Ultimately the gambler always loses and the bookmaker wins. Betting transfers money from one person to another with no creation of wealth. Far from improving the quality of life, it causes financial ruin with all the attendant human misery that follows. In April 2016, it was disclosed that Josh Jones, an accountant who also a talented musician and hockey player, jumped from a tenth floor window after running up £30,000 debts on FOTBs.

In casinos, all natural light is blocked out and there are no clocks. The idea is that you lose all sense of time.

The casino is plush, and the punter is made to feel special. Roulette has developed a language and practice that exudes status. Food and other facilities are provided “free”.

Fruit machines are carefully programmed to provide just enough winnings to keep a punter hooked. The drums are programmed to keep producing near wins – “just one more cherry and I would have won £10,000”. Banks of fruit machines produce recordings of coins tumbling down chutes so that the person believes that others are winning.

Betting companies offer a “free bet” of £70 or some other figure. What they do not tell you is that you must keep placing bets to get any winnings out.

A gambling addict can register and be self-excluded from further betting. The Times disclosed on 23 December 2017 that bookmakers and betting companies have not complied. The article identified one gambler self-excluded from Bet On Brazil placed 50 bets with its sister organisation Redzone. When he won £1,100, they refused to pay on the grounds that he should not have gambled. They refunded his stake of £270.

In 2018, William Hill was fined £6.2 million for failing to mitigate risks of money laundering and otherwise comply with social obligations.

UK gamblers lost £14 billion in the year to March 2016. That is £310 for every adult.

The betting industry knows that it must clean up its act. That is why it has agreed to increase its voluntary levy from 0.1% of gambling profits to 1.0% over the next five years. This levy goes to help gambling addicts.

In a free society, the individual should generally be free to do what he or she wishes unless it acts against someone else’s interests. I believe there are a few exceptions to the rule where this freedom needs to be limited by statute. Statutory protection and personal freedom need to be balanced. In my opinion, the fulcrum needs to be moved a little closer to protection.

 

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