How addictive are they and how can you stop?

When I first started writing this book, in the early days of my recovery, FOBTs were on the periphery of gambling. They were certainly there in the High Street betting offices and I can remember my first plays on them. At the time, they filled the time in between the horse and dog races which was why I was in the bookies. I soon got the hang of an FOBT as they were easy and indeed the cashier was very keen to help me learn the various games and options. I thought nothing of her willingness to help, and never realized it was the beginning of a really concerted drive by the industry to move people away from “traditional” over the counter bets and on to FOBTs. Why would the industry not want you to use them? You can stand there playing £100 every 20 seconds without taking up any of the cashiers time other than when she needs to empty the machine out of all your hard earned cash.

The industry (and occasionally even the government), in regard to the highly addictive nature of FOBTs, will offer a standard reply that there is actually no evidence of this and any evidence there is purely anecdotal. That reminds me so much of the then US Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s response, when she was desperate to not actually admit that genocide was going on in Rwanda as  an estimated 800,000 mainly  Tutsis were being slaughtered in a 100 day period. She said that there may be “ACTS of genocide” going on. She was then asked how many “acts of genocide” constituted actual genocide?Well how much anecdotal evidence do you need, simply by walking into most bookies on most days, at most times, and seeing people who are clearly addicts slumped over FOBTs before all of that is ACTUAL evidence?

If further proof is needed then the industry should be asked to produce monthly incident reports of how often the FOBT manufacturers were called out to repair smashed up FOBTs and then compare that figure with how many times these crimes (as that is what they are) were reported to the police. Insiders working in the betting offices up and down our High Streets have regularly reported to the Gambling Reform and Society Perception (GRASP) group of cases where they were told NOT to involve the police when a regular, high spending customer had smashed up their FOBT machines as they didn’t want to lose his custom.

The past 4 years, since the BGPS, has seen an unparrelled rise in the number of High Street payday loan companies which only now are being called into some sort regulatory control. The ease at which an addicted gambler can walk into one of these shops and get into even further debt only compounds the problem.

If you gambling problem is related to FOBTs (as so many are according to Gamcare and GA) maybe ask yourself why is it that a punter could empty £10,000 from his debit card into an FOBT machine in one session and yet would be very unlikely to be able to place a £10,000 bet on the 3.45 at Plumpton? The Gambling Commission’s response to a similar question was that the betting industry can choose its’ levels of risk and staking depending on the type of bet it takes. An FOBT machine states on its screen the Return To Player is 97.7% (for the most popular roulette feature) but when this is looked into and questioned further, again to the Gambling Commission, how that figure is arrived at the reality is very different. The bottom line is that that 97.7% figure is very misleading to the punter embarking on their journey into addiction with an FOBT machine.

FOBTs are still too new for there to be any real, independent research into why they are so addictive. Various gambling industry funded bodies have paid lip service to the idea of looking into the problem, but such research can in no way be expected to be either comprehensive  or indeed without a large conflict of interest. The government has no real desire for the tax billions to dry up so in no way shows any genuine commitment to investigating the problem. The bottom line is we (the problem gambling “community”) are on our own on this.

A widely held view that I’ve heard from many problem gamblers, is it is the speed of play that mesmerizes them so much and stops them leaving. When you couple that with most problem gambler “lost aversion” affliction (whereby they simply can’t accept losing) then you have a deadly cocktail.

So what can you do if FOBTs are your poison? For me, the approach is no different to everything else I propose you do in this book using this system.

You definitely need to interrupt your routines catastrophically and change your thought process. Change your route to work. Don’t take your cards or cash into work or when you go out or only take what you need. Be truthful about where you are going.

You need to self exclude yourself from every betting shop within easy access of your home and work place but you must realize that self exclusion is your responsibility. Do not expect any help from the industry or individual shops with your self exclusion. They’ll give you the forms and accept them but after that you are on your own. They simply don’t care whether you gamble again in their shop or not and they are under continual pressure to reach sales and profit margins. There is no law (currently) forcing them to respect your self exclusion, just a voluntary code which they can chose to abide by or not.

If you are going to self exclude (as you should) then follow my advice elsewhere in the book and make it “loud and proud”. Take your partner if you have one, and cause yourself a heap of embarrassment. The “worse” you make it for yourself the more likely you are NOT to want to go back in there again. If you are worried about this, look at it from this perspective. You can give yourself about 3 minutes of pain and embarrassment  (in each shop) and save yourself literally months and years of the embarrassment of borrowing from your family, not paying your bills, losing your job, losing your house and even losing your life to suicide. Isn’t it a bit of a no brainer?

Practice “dry runs” in order to build up your resistance to urges so that when “real” urges come along (as the y will) you know how to handle them and not act on them.

Recognise, and accept that you will NEVER be able to beat an FOBT in the long term and become a winner by NEVER playing them again.