Examination of Witnesses (Questions 43-59)
MR KEITH SMITH AND MR TIM BATSTONE
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
43. Good morning. Can I open this session? You heard GamCare's evidence this morning and also the evidence that has been submitted to the Committee in writing. They say that the majority of the calls to their help lines are concerned with addiction to machines. The Government proposals will probably lead to a huge increase in the availability of machines and the number of machines ane attraction of prizes etc. What action will BACTA members take? What plans do you have, if any, to protect the users of the machines? Have you anything in mind at all?
(Mr Smith) We currently already work with GamCare on training for arcade operators. Not all operators have taken up that opportunity but we have been explaining and Paul and his team have been doing that basic training. We have introduced codes of practice which we have had in place for about five years. We work on those and we think that the change in the legislation is likely to make some of those codes of practice be enshrined in law. The Gambling Commission will have the opportunity to back those up. We think they are all good points that would help the situation.
44. You support the Gambling Commission?
(Mr Smith) I think the Gambling Commission will be given wider powers than the current Gaming Board. The Gaming Board is very restricted in what it can do. It has no powers in pubs, for example, and various other establishments. The Gambling Commission will have all encompassing, much wider powers than the current situation.
45. You heard the previous evidence about children. What is your view about the role of gambling machines and access in creating addiction in children?
(Mr Smith) That is a very big question. Can I counter some of the things that have been said before? The UK is not the only country that allows children to play machines. We are the only country that allows children to play fruit machines of some sort. Redemption machines, where you win tickets and prizes, and cranes are operated in many other countries. In this country under current legislation, they are classed as gaming machines, as a point of clarification. Also in this country, there was mention of the problem with fish and chip shops and access to unsupervised areas where children go in. Currently, under the 1968 Gaming Act, the local authority has the power to stop that and put a blanket ban in. For example, in Birmingham, you do not get any machines in fish and chip shops and taxi cab offices etc., because they do not want them. The local authority have said that they do not want them. There are a lot of things in place that are not used that cause some of the problems. Part of the initial research was quoted by the woman from the church when she said that something like 41 per cent of people were opposed to machines in ambient areas. What they were referring to were these unsupervised areas like the fish and chip shops and taxi cab offices etc., where children could wander without adults in an unsupervised way. The law is already there for them to be controlled.
46. How are they controlled?
(Mr Smith) The local authority can put the powers in place to say, "We will not have machines in those types of premises."
47. If the local authority chooses not to do that?
(Mr Smith) That is local democracy and we have to accept that.
48. Is there any evidence, if Birmingham does not allow access into unsupervised areas, that there is a reduction of gambling addiction in Birmingham?
(Mr Smith) One of the problems we have with children and gambling generally is we do not know the facts. As came out from some of the researchers that sat here earlier todaythey are the experts, not mewe do not know all the details. All we know is that most gamblers are not associated with one activity. They are normally associated with four or more activities. If you read the prevalence study, it highlights some of these things.
49. Do you represent the social clubs?
(Mr Smith) No. I am the president of BACTA which is the main trade association that deals with 90 per cent of the gaming machines. Tim Batstone is the vice-president.
50. You do not have any involvement? You provide the machines that are in social clubs?
(Mr Batstone) Yes.
51. What is your view about the original Budd Report which said that social clubs should be restricted?
(Mr Batstone) We did not agree. Where is the evidence of harm caused by those machines being in social clubs?
52. Is there any difference between what happens in a social club and what happens in a pub or any of the other areas?
(Mr Batstone) It is a supervised environment to which children do not generally have access.
53. In a social club?
(Mr Batstone) Yes.
54. Which would mean that it should not be the case that they should be restricted since the area tends to be more controlled than open areas like fish and chip shops.
(Mr Batstone) Correct. One of the reasons why fruit machines seem to bear the brunt of the phone calls is that we do cooperate so well with GamCare and GamCare posters are on display in virtually all the BACTA outlets so the help line phone number is ready to hand.
55. How would you react to being forced or persuaded to provide substantial money to help?
(Mr Smith) I am a member of the Gambling Industry Trust. I am one of the founder trustees. We are committed to that trust and we would like to feel that we could make it successful. In the first year, we have raised about £800,000, still well short of the three million target we have in mind, but we have made very good steps towards it. We are committed to trying to raise that money. It will not be easy. We hope it will be done in a voluntary manner. If not, as the government has made very clear, they will back it up with legal requirements and a levy if we are unsuccessful.
56. The evidence we had earlier was that they only received £311,000.
(Mr Smith) I think you later have the chairman of the trust, Penny Cobham, so she can probably tell you a bit more than I can. There is more than GamCare involved in looking after children. We have put some money to Gordon House; we have put some money to GamCare initially and we have also put some money aside to have an investigation done into the best use of money from the trust. We are not experts in problem gambling. We need someone to advise us on the best way of using the money.
57. Do you consider that the Budd recommendation to phase out the use of AWPs by children over five years is a fair compromise?
(Mr Batstone) We do not agree with that. That is wiping out an industry that has matured over generations. It has been enjoyed by a lot of past generations and we thought it was entirely wrong.
(Mr Smith) Budd did not actually say that. He said after five years we will do a complete review on the figures, but I am glad you said that because our interpretation is the same as yours.
58. Have you conducted any research into problems created by access to machines?
(Mr Batstone) We have done attitudinal research into parents' attitudes to fruit machines and have found that they rank very low on the scale compared with text messaging, computer games, junk food and following fashion. Gambling was ranked 12 out of 13 problems activities for teenagers.
59. I tend to agree with that. Having four grown up children, it is not something that has ever been seen as a real problem but there does not seem to be any hard evidence. Would you agree that we need more research?
(Mr Smith) Yes.