I wrote a piece about the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals uproar in the magazine this week, and it has prompted some angry responses by email and over social media. I’m told that I didn’t treat problem gambling with sufficient seriousness. I’m not sorry about that, I’m afraid: I think it’s silly to be too serious about the vices of others.
My point was that the political and the media classes are having something of a moral panic about FOBTs — and as always with moral panics, the political and media classes don’t really know what they are talking about. I doubt Ed Miliband or Tom Watson, who both seem dead against FOBTs, have ever spent more than 10 minutes in a bookie.
It is the righteous crusaders, not the exploitative vice industry, who often do the most harm. By clamping down on FOBTs, for instance, the government will probably not reduce reckless gambling. (See Alex Massie’s excellent post on the subject here.) It will just push more and more problem gamblers on to the Internet, but the puritans of the Labour Party would be happier. The state could still extract plenty of tax from gaming companies (remember Super Casinos, everyone?), and nobody has to feel appalled at the sight of lots of poor people shuffling in and out of high-street bookmakers.
Oh, and it so happens that the bookmaker who will profit most from a FOBT ban, or any restriction on retail betting terminals, is likely to be Bet365, an online operator whose owners are generous donors to the Labour Party.