Philip Davies: Dispelling the myths about gambling

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THE first myth I want to dispel is that there has been an explosion in the number of betting offices and machines.

The number of betting offices has actually declined from a peak of 14,750 in the mid-1970s to around 8,700 today and that figure has been virtually the same for the last 10 years.

Fixed odds betting terminals – B2 machines – are also in decline: according to the Gambling Commission four per cent of adults played them in 2010 and
the figure dropped to 3.4 per cent in
2011-12 and, in 2013, all bookmakers reported a decline in the gross win from FOBTs.

Even in areas considered to have huge numbers of bookmakers, they make up about 2.7 per cent of all retail units.

Let us take Greenwich in London as an example of what has happened. The number of bookmakers has gone up in Greenwich by eight per cent at the same time as the population in Greenwich has increased by 13 per cent.

Of course bookmakers are often in densely populated areas and some of them happen to be poorer areas, too, but the relevant fact is that they are in densely populated areas not poorer areas.

It is true that more bookmakers have moved on to the high street in recent years, but their overall number has not gone up; instead they have moved from the side streets owing to lower rents because of the recession largely caused by the Labour Party, and they will probably move back on to the side streets when the economy recovers and rents on the high street go back up.

Anyway, where are the legions of retailers wanting to open up on the high street in place of bookmakers? It is not a decision between having Next on the high street or William Hill or having M&S on the high street or Paddy Power. It is a choice between having Ladbrokes on the high street or a boarded-up shop.

People ask for a demand test and there is a demand test: it is called a customer demand test, which is the ultimate demand test.

The second myth is that bookmakers target poorer areas. There are two bookmakers per square mile in the most deprived areas. That compares with nine pubs and 11 takeaways.

If Labour are saying that bookmakers are targeting the poorest people in society, what do they have to say about pubs and takeaways targeting those people? Do we hear anything about that?

We do not, because this is not about the poorest in society being targeted; it is about people who are anti-gambling and anti-bookmaker. Bookmakers are not targeting poorer areas. This is about middle-class people being patronising towards working-class people by telling them that they know best how they should spend their money.

The third myth is that the machines are used by the poorest people. Again, that is untrue. The health survey published in recent months shows that gambling prevalence was highest in the top quintiles of household income, with six per cent of people in the highest income quintile playing FOBTs, compared with four per cent in the lowest quintile.

The fourth myth is that the amount of problem gambling is going up. According to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, 0.8 per cent of men and 0.2 per cent of women were identified as problem gamblers in 2012. That is down from 0.9 per cent in the previous prevalence study.

So problem gambling is going down, not up. If B2s and FOBTs were the cause of such problem gambling, it would presumably have gone through the
roof in recent years, but it has actually gone down.

We often hear FOBTs being described as the “crack cocaine of gambling”, but by whom? No one impartial describes them in that way. The first recorded instance is Donald Trump describing video keno games in New Jersey as the “crack cocaine of gambling”, because he feared that they would keep people out of his casinos. This is a ridiculous debate on a ridiculous premise.

• Philip Davies is the Conservative MP for Shipley who spoke in Parliament on the betting industry.