Betting shop staff not trained to spot problem gamblers, says report

Study described as a ‘wake-up call’ comes as government prepares to unveil review that could overhaul regulation

Betting shop staff are not properly trained to spot problem gamblers and are even encouraging customers to chase losses or adopt useless strategies, according to a report described as a “wake-up call” to the industry.

Fresh concerns about gambling firms’ efforts to tackling addiction came as the government prepares to unveil a review that could overhaul regulation of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and advertising by the industry.

The lengthy report, commissioned by the betting sector’s Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG), was branded “shocking” by Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson. It found:

  • Staff are poorly trained or see problem gambling measures as “pointless”.
  • Some staff reinforce “false beliefs” about lucky numbers or slot machines.
  • Responsible gambling messages are hidden where customers can’t see them.
  • Betting firms set default spending limits as high as £99,999.

The report found that firms have undermined their own efforts to reduce harm, indicating “double standards”.

“It’s a clear wake-up call to the gambling industry,” said Marc Etches, chief executive of the UK’s leading charity for betting addicts, GambleAware.

“Frankly, all sectors need to do more to ensure staff and customers know when, how and where to seek help.”

Watson, who said last month that Labour would impose a levy on gambling firms to fund addiction treatment, said: “This shocking report is a litany of poor practice from an industry that is out of control.

“Instead of trying to help problem gamblers, and encourage responsible gambling, too often gambling firms and their staff are facilitating irresponsible behaviour.”

The report, written by research group Revealing Reality, raised concerns including staff suggesting to customers that there may be patterns in games that are based entirely on chance.

One customer was told: “You always win when you sit at this table, don’t you?” In another case, staff also reserved a seat at a particular slot machine based on their inaccurate belief that it was a “ticking timebomb” about to pay out after a string of losses.

The report’s authors said this was not believed to be deliberate deception but pointed out that “few [staff] had ever received training in how to practically deliver and integrate responsible gambling practice into their day‑to‑day role”.

Some shop staff said they found problem gambling initiatives to be “pointless” or “futile”.

The claim comes less than a week after the Guardian revealed that Ladbrokes is under investigation over claims its staff looked on as a problem gambler took out payday loans to fund bets.

Bookmakers were also criticised for making problem gambling messages far less prominent than promotions and advertising, with warnings “hidden away in dark corners” or “illegible”.

Some websites were found to be creating conditions that might lead to riskier play, such as setting default spending limits as high as £99,999.

Betting operators were also found to be resistant to adopting new approaches to tackling addiction, raising objections such as cost of lack of academic evidence that they did not apply to sales and promotional initiatives designed to boost profits.

Watson accused the industry of “defending the indefensible rather than clearing out the worst offenders”.

“The gambling industry needs to take more responsibility for tackling Britain’s epidemic of gambling addiction. If they don’t, the next Labour government will make sure they will,” he said.

An IGRG spokesman, John Hagan, said: “The gambling industry is working tirelessly to promote responsible gambling.

“And it was industry recognition of the importance of raising standards of messaging and training which led to the commissioning of this report.”


Rob Davies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Betting turf war is torpedoing efforts to help problem gamblers
Infighting to protect their own interests means rivals bookmakers, pubs and arcades are scuppering legal reforms to help addicts, warns charity

Rob Davies

21, Feb, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Gambling watchdog fails to curb fixed-odds betting stakes to £2
Labour deputy ‘deeply disappointed’ as Gambling Commission appears to ‘cave in to industry pressure’

Rob Davies and Simon Goodley

19, Mar, 2018 @6:20 PM

Article image
Problem gamblers – no one knows how many exist or cost to the state
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson derides admission and says his party will ‘ask the questions the government is failing to ask’

Rob Davies and Sarah Boseley

05, Dec, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Ladbrokes accused of conflict of interest over problem gamblers
Regulator to seek assurances after staff ‘incentivised to encourage FOBT use’

Rob Davies

08, Feb, 2019 @1:06 PM

Article image
Crackdown on fixed-odds betting terminals unveiled
Maximum bet to fall to between £2 and £50 as minister addresses gaming and advertising concerns but Labour calls review ‘deeply disappointing’

Rob Davies

31, Oct, 2017 @5:33 PM

Article image
William Hill chief quits Twitter in wake of spat with betting campaigners
Ralph Topping takes social media account private after exchanges with opponents of fixed-odds betting terminals

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor

15, Jan, 2014 @6:45 PM

Article image
Protecting online gamblers would be a good policy for any party | Nils Pratley
A group of MPs want to restrict vulnerable people’s losses online – a logical step after measures affecting betting shops

Nils Pratley

04, Nov, 2019 @7:33 PM

Article image
Gamblers 'lost more than £10,000' on fixed-odds betting terminals
GambleAware charity’s analysis submitted to government’s gambling review reveals extent of losses on controversial FOBTs

Rob Davies

14, Mar, 2017 @12:05 PM

Article image
Report shows betting industry's reliance on problem gamblers
Exclusive: Regulator considers banning VIP schemes after betting firm data reveals widespread use

Rob Davies

02, Jan, 2020 @6:00 PM

Article image
Cut fixed-odds betting stakes to £2, MPs urge
Parliamentary group also wants councils to be able to stop bookies ‘clustering’ shops as charity says measures could be ineffective

Rob Davies

08, Dec, 2016 @3:54 PM