As a teenager living in a seaside town, I recall spending a lot of time and money playing slot machines at the local arcade. Putting coppers into one-arm bandits and hoping that silver coins would come out filled many a weekend and school holiday. Of course, the reality was that winnings were generally paid in two- rather than 10-pence coins. ‘It makes a lot of noise when it pays out’, my dad used to say to me, before noting that it doesn’t seem to make much noise when you put your money in.
I’ve not played on a slot machine since my early twenties, but the media coverage last week of Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – Assessing the Impact, an All Party Parliamentary Group report into a particular type of gambling machine, prompted me to try my luck once again. So I headed to a local bookies to investigate just what all the fuss is about.
What struck me on entering the bookies were the signs warning of the dangers of gambling and explaining where I could go to get help. They were everywhere, including on the four FOBT machines (the maximum number allowed by law) in the corner of the bookies.
I soon discovered that a FOBT allows you to set a limit in terms of time and/or money (although I’d already set myself a limit of £10). There are a choice of games, too, so I plumped for the one game that I knew how to play – Blackjack. To cut a long story short, my bankroll went up and down, but I eventually left with nothing. The experience reminded me why I rarely play Blackjack any more, and why I never play on fruit machines. I do gamble – poker at casinos, and a few horse-racing bets a year. But I shan’t be rushing off to play a FOBT again any time soon.
My experience of the mundane reality of FOBTs was in stark contrast to the fearmongering that accompanied last week’s APPG report. MP Carolyn Harris, speaking at the report’s launch, talked of how it was vital to protect the vulnerable, especially in poorer communities, from ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’. She said FOBTs were ‘sucking money out of the pockets of families’.