Big Debate – Part 2: Why the ABB Code is having a positive impact, by Hilary Douglas

Big Debate – Part 2: Why the ABB Code is having a positive impact, by Hilary Douglas

Friday, January 9, 2015 Totally Gaming

In response to yesterday’s piece published on, ‘Why the ABB code of practice is part of the problem, by Dr. Charles Livingstone’, Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) campaigns director Hilary Douglas explains to why the code is having a positive impact on gambling behaviours.

"Critics of the ABB code call for lower stakes to be introduced on gaming machines in betting shops, although interestingly they are happy for casinos to continue to offer the higher stakes." - Hilary Douglas

For generations, gambling has been a popular leisure pursuit in Britain, with some eight million customers enjoying our products each year, writes Hilary Douglas.

The vast majority of these customers play safely and responsibly. However, we do acknowledge that a minority of customers struggle to control their gambling. As an industry we work hard to help those individuals through a multi-channel self-help approach.

Since March 2013, when the Association of British Bookmaker’s Code for Responsible Gambling was launched, betting shop customers playing on gaming machines have been actively encouraged to set their own limits before starting to bet.

A year after the ABB’s code was launched, Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University was commissioned by the ABB to make a preliminary evaluation of its success.

He took 15 weeks of raw machine data and looked at player patterns over that time, concluding that the Code, whilst it was early days, is having a positive effect. He also indicated areas where it required strengthening.

For example, his initial assessment has shown that setting voluntary limits has had some impact. The data, which is collated weekly from gaming machines across the UK, shows that 85 per cent of customers setting a time limit stop playing when they reach that limit, or stop putting in any new cash.

And 75 per cent of those who set a monetary limit walk away from the gaming machine and stop playing when that limit is reached.

In an average session, players spend just under £7, which is less than the cost of a cinema ticket or a couple of pints of beer in a pub with a friend.

Building on the evidence that most customers who set limits stick to them, the industry has since decided to make it mandatory for individuals playing on gaming machines to make an active yes/no decision as to whether to set a limit before they start of play. This measure will be implemented by the end of January.

The ABB Code for Responsible Gambling also emphasises the importance of additional measures including staff training. In their front-line role, staff are usually the first to spot when any of their customers might be acting out of character and changing their gambling patterns and may be in need of intervention.

One of the most powerful tools for dealing with problem gambling is self-exclusion.

In the past six months, largely due to a reinvigorated programme of staff training since the ABB code came into force, the number of self-exclusions has risen by 35 per cent.

Customers sign a commitment with the bookmaker to self-exclude for a period of 12 months, and during the time LBO staff will work with the customers to help them keep their promise to abstain from gambling. When the period is up, many customers will continue to work with shop staff and decide that it is best for them to extend that period of self-exclusion, in some cases indefinitely.

Staff are experienced in signposting problem gamblers to other help networks funded by the gambling industry if they feel they need specialist help. GamCare, a gambling charity, runs one-to-one counselling services across the UK on behalf of the gambling industry for those who would benefit from that level of support.

Critics of the ABB code call for lower stakes to be introduced on gaming machines in betting shops, although interestingly they are happy for casinos to continue to offer the higher stakes.

However, other independent research into stake reduction on machines shows that as a harm minimisation measure will not be effective. This is because problem gamblers are addicted to an average of five or six different products, so they will simply switch their playing pattern to another form of gambling.

Indeed, in Norway where maximum spending on gambling were lowered drastically the rates of problem gambling and illegal gambling actually went up.

While we firmly believe one problem gambler is one too many, it is perhaps prudent to put the level of problem gambling into some degree of perspective.

It has been more than a decade since gaming machines were permitted in local betting shops.

During that time, the levels of problem gambling have remained stable.

The majority of betting shops have been present on the high street in the same location for 20 or even 30 years. The industry provides a vital source of employment in these communities, supporting 100,000 jobs and paying more than £1 billion in tax each year.

The betting industry in the UK has made significant gains in improving player protection measures, but we recognise that there is still some way to go to alleviate public concerns about gaming machines. This is why we continue to work in consultation with Government and the Regulator to continue to build on some of the best gambling player protection measures anywhere in the world.


Author information:

Prior to joining the ABB, Hilary Douglas worked for the last 20 years as a national newspaper journalist on a variety of titles including the Today newspaper, the Sun and the Sunday Express. In her last role on the Sunday Express she was the paper’s Education Editor, working in Westminster while also covering foreign affairs stories for the title. Click here for more information.


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