Although most people assume that those with addiction abuse substances such as heroin, cocaine or alcohol, this is not always the case. Addiction is defined as a pattern of behaviour that causes negative problems in a person’s life, meaning that it is actually possible to become addicted to anything. However, one of the more common types of addiction here in the UK, and one that seems to be a growing concern is gambling addiction.

More and more people are becoming affected by gambling addiction every day, and a recent Panorama episode has highlighted one issue that many feel is to blame for the growing problem – fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

Crack Cocaine of Gambling

For a long time now, many campaigners have referred to FOBTs as ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’ because of how addictive these are. With their ability to spin three times in a minute, and a maximum spin limit of £100 per spin, it is possible for gamblers to lose thousands in the space of minutes.

Campaigners have been calling for a review of these machines for many years now, and in the BBC’s Panorama episode, Wendy Bendel wanted to understand what made her partner Lee commit suicide because of a gambling addiction. She decided to investigate how addictive FOBTs actually are in the hope that this might shed some light on what was going on in Lee’s head before he took his life.

Tragic Addiction

Lee and Wendy were together for seven years before he committed suicide two years ago. He was just thirty-six years old but had developed a devastating addiction to FOBTs – an addiction that took control of his life. Matt Zarb-Cousin is a former gambler and campaigns against FOBTs, and he agrees that these machines are akin to crack cocaine in the gambling industry.

He said that he developed a devastating addiction to betting shop machines when he was just sixteen-years-old, losing thousands of pounds on them. He admitted to contemplating suicide, and added, “10-20% of problem gamblers have considered suicide. I would put money on a football accumulator and buy a lottery ticket as well, but I spent most of my money on these machines.”

Dangerous Machines

It is not just former gamblers and family members of gamblers who believe that more should be done about FOBTs. In fact, many former bookmakers have spoken out about the dangers of these machines and how they hook the most vulnerable.

Fintan Drury is a former chair for Paddy Power, and he said, “There are a number of industries where the moral dilemma is more evident than others, like the tobacco industry. But what if it was one of my children who was addicted? How would we promote our offering?”

He believes that the solution to the problem is to reduce the maximum stake or remove these machines from betting shops entirely.

Appealing to Brains of Addicts

Research has shown that betting machines are actually designed to target the most vulnerable. With an estimated 750,000 problem gamblers in the UK, there is a worry that the issue will only get worse if nothing is done.

A Daily Mail campaign has found that FOBTs are designed to ‘appeal to the brains of addicts’ because those who are susceptible to addiction find the ‘near-miss’ just as exciting as actually winning. The brains of those affected by gambling addiction are similar to those who are affected by other addictions such as alcohol or drug addiction. The Daily Mail campaign is now calling for new restrictions to be placed on these betting machines.

Professor David Nutt, who once worked as the Government’s drugs adviser, said, “No one is going to get addicted from placing a bet on the Grand National once a year. But on these machines, you can place 50 bets an hour.”

He also added, “Gambling addiction has a biological basis. The brain has a chemical abnormality similar to those that have other additions. Addicts have a brain defect because they are programmed not to function without their addiction.”

Targeting the Vulnerable

Professor Nutt believes that FOBTs target the most vulnerable in society, and this is why these machines are so popular. Because the process of gambling is almost as exciting as the actual reward, these devices are resulting in a growing number of people developing a gambling addiction.

Professor Nutt said, “The more people gamble and the more excitement they get, the more they are vulnerable to becoming addicted. If you don’t do it, you won’t get addicted.”

It would appear that constant campaigning for tighter restrictions on FOBTs may have paid off, however, as last week it was revealed that ministers are ordering a review into betting machines because of the amount of social damage these are causing. It could mean that the maximum spin is finally reduced to £2.

Sources: ‘The crack cocaine of gambling‘ Panorama shines light on betting machine addiction (Daily Star)

The crack cocaine of gambling: Fixed odds betting machines are designed to hook the vulnerable (Daily Mail)