Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)
MR PETER DEAN, MR TOM KAVANAGH AND MR GRAHAM WHITE
TUESDAY 2 JULY 2002
280. When the organisation representing casinos and slot machine operators came to see us, they said that they display on their machines the probability rates of winning and they also said that you could educate gamblers into the theory of statistical independent variance. Do you think that is likely?
(Mr Dean) I think that sounds a little far-fetched. Slot machine players are more sophisticated than one sometimes gives them credit for. Certainly experienced slot machine players have a very shrewd idea of the odds that are paid out.
281. They sound a little more sophisticated than Sir Alan Budd's description of the Bingo guy who decides to invest for his holiday!
(Mr Dean) I think that Bingo players are pretty sophisticated too. They know how much they are going to lose.
282. To what extent is it the duty of society to protect people from themselves? This is a free society. We do not protect people from smoking. People are perfectly free to smoke though it can be argued that smoking is an illegal activity. We do not protect people from drinking unless they commit a criminal offence like drunken driving. We do, because that has been the practice, seek to protect people from taking addictive drugs. Is it really in the nature of a free society that we ought to prevent people doing what they want which is not a criminal offence, apart of course from protecting children which I would say is in every respect an overriding responsibility.
(Mr Dean) The Board does not have a view on such a philosophical matter as such. My own answer to that would be that you cannot answer that question "yes" or "no". The level of protection has to relate to the particular activity under consideration. So, as far as gambling is concerned, one knows that a small proportion of individuals will have a problem with gambling and I think the measures instituted have to reflect that.
(Mr Kavanagh) If I may just add a point which I think partly answers Mr Fabricant's point, one of the things that the Board is quite keen on is to create the obvious things like being as transparent as possible and, for instance, we have just recently agreed a leaflet with the casino industry which has been published for the first time. I think it is possible that more could be done on gaming machines and such education that a player has about statistical probability to at least educate them on the different edges that there are on the different games they play; I think more could be done in that way.
283. How do you educate people who do not want to be educated or who are not ready to be educated?
(Mr Kavanagh) You do not. The parallel I would give is similar to the fact that pubs have to display all their prices. If you want to know their prices before you buy a pint of beer, you can find out. You are not forced to because a lot of people just go in and buy a drink. The players should have the right to be able to find out what the odds are on the various games they play.
284. Do they care in the end?
(Mr Kavanagh) Some care, some may not, but there is a question of being transparent to the players if they want to find out. It has been the position in the past that you did not know what the odds were on these games without buying a textbook which would tell you. That information is now available in casinos. It is just making it available to those people who want to know.
285. So you approve of the statement by the Chief Executive of Camelot in which she basically tells people who buy a Lottery ticket that winning a big prize is overwhelmingly unlikely?
(Mr Kavanagh) I think I would say it is fair that the players should know what the odds are of winning that big prize in order that they can make a decision as to whether they buy a ticket or not.
286. People do know what the odds are or are the odds offered when they go racing.
(Mr Kavanagh) In some ways, betting is almost the most transparent of the sports in that respect, but you do not know the house edge particularly on a Black Jack game or a casino Stud Poker game unless you make the effort to find it out.
287. In addition to the possibility that if you are playing Black Jack or something else in the casino - I would not dream of saying that it applies to most casinos - it can be fixed just in the way in the end that a horse race can be fixed.
(Mr Kavanagh) It can be fixed if the game is not being fairly and properly run and it is part of our job to make sure that it is.
288. Again, I am not in any case questioning your assiduity or your devotion to your task. It is like the bobby on the beat; the moment the bobby has gone past on his or her beat, the criminal knows that the bobby has gone.
(Mr White) Chairman, may I comment there?
289. Who better to tell us than you, Mr White.
(Mr White) The best policeman, on the fairness and transparency of the game, is actually the punters themselves. They will be the first to complain to us or to the management that something is not right because it is money.
290. If I can go back to the AWPs yet again because, over and over again, these seem to be an area of . . . Lots of things are going on round them. I have something here which suggests that terrorist organisations are funding themselves via them; I have Gamcare saying that the majority of problem gamblers develop their habits whilst children and of course they have access to them in fish and chip shops and all the little places. Obviously they are not going to casinos. So, we are looking at these machines as one of the major impacts on young people. We have the police saying that they would ban themquietly, they will not go on record but they would love to ban them because they are magnets of trouble in the community. However, there is not a lot they can do about it because it is not so sufficient that they can tramp down on them, but it is continuous in little amounts which are really, really irritating and annoying and take up their time and are destructivethey are magnets of problem. What else do we have? We have the fact that quite a large number of them are unlicensed as you yourself have said or some of them are licensed and others in the room are not. This is a major problem. My sense of all this is that, if the Government go the way they look as though they are going without sorting out this problem first, they are setting themselves up to have a lot more problem gamblers and double the figures like other countries. Would you disagree with everything I have just said?
(Mr Dean) Yes, I think I would. First of all, the proposals do not envisage a wholesale expansion of all types of gaming machines in all venues. The Board does believe quite strongly that, in principle, gambling should be offered in places which are licensed to offer gambling. There are certain exceptions to that and they are age old exceptions, but they are limited exceptions. Pubs are one exception, clubs are another exception, but the numbers of machines in such venues are limited now and it is envisaged that they will continue to be in the future. I think that is right. You have heard what our view is in relation to machines in fish and chip shops and taxi cab offices. So far as casinos are concerned, there is indeed the prospect of significant expansion in relation to the unlimited prize/unlimited pay-out machines, but those machines will be restricted to casinos, casinos being a highly regulated environment which will have gone through all the fit and proper tests proposed by the Gambling Commission which will regularly inspect them and which will be subject to obligations of social responsibility enforced by a code. So, I do not quite see the spectre which you are envisaging.
291. So you think it is all hunky-dory at the moment. You do not recognise the problems I have outlined.
(Mr Dean) I certainly recognise the issue of problem gambling and that is a problem now and will continue to be a problem.
292. And, in your judgment, you do not think it will grow?
(Mr Dean) There is undoubtedly a likelihood that the increase of access to gambling will increase the incidence of problem gambling, but one comes back to the dilemma which the Chairman was outlining a moment ago which is, to what extent do you regulate to cater for a small minority or to what extent do you provide for the majority but nevertheless put in safeguards ?
293. Do you think that any of that increase in problem gambling will be amongst young people because the majority of reported cases are amongst young people. So, do you envisage that will increase?
(Mr Dean) No. I think one of the good things about the proposals is that there will be improved controls in relation to young people; it will become an offence for somebody underage to gamble and it will be an offence for any operator to allow such gambling. So, there are increased restrictions in that respect which is desirable.
294. Increased restrictions which are reasonably easy to police in casinos. I would suggest that in all the cases where I have been discussing, they are nigh impossible to police.
(Mr Dean) I believe that they are very difficult to police in fish and chip shops and the taxi cab offices and that is why
295. And a lot of clubs and all the other little outlets because of sheer numbers. The little ones are often not being policed either by the police or the local authority inspectors. They simply cannot do it. The odds on an inspector walking in to inspect something are very good.
(Mr Dean) Again, how those venues are going to be controlled is something which is currently under discussion amongst the DCMS, the industry and the Gaming Board. That certainly has to be worked on. It is a challenge. One has to weigh that against the current hard evidence of abuse and there is not a lot of hard evidence of abuse.
296. Why do you suppose that is? Is there hard evidence of not abusing? Of course there is not. There is not much hard evidence at all because there are not enough people to go round and look in the first place.
(Mr Dean) I think if there is not a lot of hard evidence at all, then that is an argument on the other side. I would argue against imposing wholesale legal restrictions. As I say, there are new restrictions in relation to children and they are good.
(Mr Kavanagh) If I may add a point that is relevant there. Under the current law, it is not illegal for a child to play a jackpot machine in a club and it is not illegal for club owners to allow them to do so. One of the benefits of what is being proposed is that that will all change and both of those will be committing an offence and, with the conditions or restrictions that are proposed being linked to licences for those machines, that is a distinct improvement over where we are at the moment.
297. This is true but will be completely useless if there are not the people to go out and police them. It will be pointless if there is no one to police that and at the moment the probability of you being prosecuted for doing that illegally is tiny, is it not? You would only really be prosecuted at the moment if you are shopped by somebody in the industry who is seeing you as a competitor.
(Mr Kavanagh) At the moment there is no duty and the Board has no responsibility in respect of clubs. Your point earlier is a valid one, that the larger the number of machines there are on the single sites in small blocks, the harder it is to have good regulatory controls than when they are concentrated on licensed premises. That must be right.
298. You have said that an increased access will increase problem gambling. You said that.
(Mr Dean) I said there was a likelihood.
299. Did you?
(Mr Dean) Yes, I did.