Gambling addiction has forced several of my close friends into suffering mental breakdowns, losing their partners and plunging into major debt. It is often worse than alcohol and drug addiction on so many levels. Undoubtedly, gambling addiction is an illness. I have watched closely as a number of friends endure the agonies and mental stress caused by gambling. Going with them to the bookies and watching them lose their money whilst they frantically yell at me “I’m not addicted, just one last spin and I’ll round my credit up to the next £10”. The next £10 was always £0. Always.
It’s extremely difficult to stop friends from gambling such large amounts. If they want to do it, they’re going to do it. Once the idea of gambling is in an addict’s mind, there’s literally nothing that will stop them. Saying to an addict “come on, that’s your last £10” or “this is definitely your last spin then collect the rest” doesn’t work. They may do as you say to begin with, but they’ll come back and use the FOBTs when they’re alone, or gamble online which is just as easy and potentially even more dangerous.
The problem with gambling addiction, and more so FOBTs, is that the individuals don’t necessarily want to win, it’s the adrenaline rush that keeps them hooked. Once the spin button is pressed and the ball begins to fly around the outside of the roulette wheel, that’s the exact moment a gambling addict cherishes, that's their shot in the arm.
Walking into the bookies nowadays is a totally different experience to that of 20 years ago (So I’m told, I’m 24). Depending on the time of year, you either walk into a shop with the air condition blasting or the heating on full. There’s leather sofas and you’re always asked whether you’d like a complimentary drink. Some may say this is the sign of good customer service and some would say this is a ploy to attract more problem gamblers. Arguably it’s both.
I walked into the bookies a few months back and I watched a man spend over £1,500 in 25 minutes. After filling the machine full of £20 notes, he then went to the counter asking if the member of staff would accept a card payment in order to put some more credit onto the FOBT he was using. The member of staff said yes without hesitation, and that happened another 6 times, with every transaction being in the region of £80-£200. The sad part of all this is that the member of staff could’ve stopped the man, but allowed him to feed his addiction and lose fortunes in the process, perhaps further into debt too. After losing all of his money the man then burst into tears and smashed his fist into the machine which had hoovered up his money, then forcing his arms around his head, screaming. The equivalent of a decent monthly wage gone in the space of 25 minutes.
Although it may seem otherwise, it certainly wasn’t the member of staff’s fault for allowing these transactions to go through. The fault lies with the gambling companies who simply do not do enough to prevent people from becoming gambling addicts. FOBTs are too accessible, the maximum stake of £50 is far too high and the amount of time between spins is far too short. It’s simply not enough for big gambling companies to stick a dozen leaflets around their shops or put up two posters in their windows telling people to stop gambling “when the fun stops”.
I was talking to a member of staff who works at a very well-known high street bookmaker 2 weeks ago. Shockingly, he told me that if a customer smashes a machine or damages It due to losing money, they shouldn’t call the police, they should just call the FOBT distributor and get them out to fix or replace it. This is all money orientated and a person’s health should not be played with to make huge profits for shareholders.
The problem doesn’t just lie with bookies on the high-street, as I said earlier online gambling is a major problem too. I know that certain online gambling companies ban people who win a lot of money but allow addicts who lose fortunes to continue. I know of successful gamblers who are given a maximum stake whereas problem gamblers, who have lost unbelievable amounts of money, can gamble everything they have.
Now, gambling addiction is rife throughout society and the statistics show that FOBT use (or misuse) is on the rise. Statistics also show that FOBTs can generate up to 70% of a single shops income. The government and the large gambling companies need to talk to people who have recovered from FOBT addiction and then regulate them in a proper and sensible way. Although the machines are a huge revenue boost for gambling companies and a big tax generator for the treasury, a citizen’s health should be the priority for both. Gambling addiction is an illness that has and will continue to kill people. FOBTs are not know as the crack cocaine of gambling for no reason.