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  • Writer's pictureBen Westwood

Ay up!! The £2 a spin betting limit on betting shop gambling machines isn't actually in place.

As some of you might already know over a decade ago I did a campaign to raise awareness of the rise in gambling addiction after a series of events led me to walking into a betting shop in Brighton one day to keep out of the rain. Out of courtesy to the shop and not wanting to be merely a loiterer I played roulette with around three or four pounds and within an hour or so I'd won over five-hundred.

"You'll be in here tomorrow. Don't put it all back in" said the clerk behind the counter after giving me my stack of notes. "Nah, I ain't a mug" I replied, sure as day that I wouldn't be that foolish to throw away this money that I'd really needed whilst being somewhat completely worn out yet persisting with spirit during what had been months of sofa-surfing at the time.

"They all say that mate" the clerk responded back "I bet I see you in here again."

I'd actually been in that betting shop a week prior which had been my first experience of ever walking inside of one until that point. Before that I'd simply taken no notice of the many new-style betting shops that had popped up which seemed more polished and hotel-like than my memories of walking past them and seeing old men in flat caps whilst over-hearing the horse racing and catching a strong whiff of tobacco smoke. Of course, the clerk that had handed me the cash was right, and what I'd actually done was got myself a bed and breakfast for a few days so that I could get the rest I'd needed without always been the last asleep and the first awake, but I'd also convinced myself that roulette was beatable in which I'd designed a system to try to put the odds in my favour. During my test runs with numbered pieces of paper being drawn from something or other it seemed that that my test was working and there was a high chance of doubling my money.

Despite covering the majority of the numbers on the roulette 'luck' had decided to merely laugh at me in the face in which in the space of around ten minutes I lost around £200 of the £500 I'd won on the previous night. My plan to win just enough to get the deposit I'd needed for somewhere to rent had failed.

I immediately went clothes shopping in the Primark store across the Western Road because I knew the money wouldn't last long in my position and if I would of accepted my losses perhaps things wouldn't of turned out the way that they had. But instead I'd started noticing the other betting shops that I hadn't even realised where there before, and so I found myself walking into a Betfred further down the road where it appeared I'd nearly lost another forty pounds until I'd won at the last minute again to cover most of the money I'd lost before.

Most people would think that it would of been the best time to walk away at the point, and they'd be right. Unknowingly to me at the time though, what had often merely been described as a 'buzz' or 'happy feelings' had in fact been something much more deep, much more dark and much more serious than that. That feeling or rush a person gets when they get a big and surprising win is actually a full-blown chemical and neurological alteration happening in the brain when the first initial flooding of dopamine creates a neural pathway creating the subconscious message that gambling is a legitimate means of survival. To put it simply, for many people once they have that big surprising win then they're simply never quite the same person again.

Some may call me a hypocrite since during my times campaigning on it in around 2012 I've even had my struggles since then, but can highly recommend using the Gamban and Gamblock services to prevent you being able to access online gambling, as well as using the self-exclusion service to ban yourself from local betting shops. Of course, roulette and slot machines aren't called the 'crack cocaine' of gambling for no reason and so often the most chronic of gambling addicts may indeed find ways around the system but I think for the majority of people these things certainly help.

I'd certainly dedicated myself to the cause, but life's events had got in the way and as I'd had a history of using gambling to self-soothe through some of my more tougher moments in life. I'd generally stopped campaigning about it when I thought I'd be a hypocrite for doing so. There were a couple of times I'd certainly been that hypocrite, but that's the nature and the strength of the addiction.

What had led me to the campaigning however wasn't merely noticing the effects to my own mental health but it was seeing the obvious dangers ahead and red flags from what were extremely concerning events happening frequently in betting shops.

Some of us were destroying our lives in a more civil silence whilst for others it had been more chronic and obvious as they kept constantly feeding the machine fifty-pound notes in the hope for their next win. When that win repeatedly failed to come in it had been pretty much a regular occurrence for the customers in the shop, which were mostly always men, to fully lose their self-control to the machines causing them to punch, shake or spit at the machine whilst shouting that the game was fixed.

It was more than obvious that actual brain damage was being caused here, but one of my main concerns at the time was with what I knew that I could see coming - somebody going about their day and becoming the victim of somebody with a severe lack of control or mental health problem leaving a betting shop. Sure enough it happened a couple of years later when an old lady got killed outside of a betting shop one day, and then similar events would occur again.

Another obvious side-effect of the rise of gambling and the 'normalisation' of it was that crime and fraud could potentially rocket through the roof, and it wasn't until I'd started researching it that I could see the full scope of how much of a detrimental impact the Gambling Act 2005 was having on communities.

It's not just about the crime figures though, but the nature and morality of some of them. Take a deep enough research into the crimes being committed that have gambling addiction attributed to them and the varying amount of situations becomes immediately evident. For all of the glitz and glamour of the bingo adverts you see none of them dare ever tell the stories of those that have literally swindled their own mothers, daughters and those that they were supposed to care for in order to feed their online bingo addictions. Likewise, online casino sites will tell you everyone's having fun but would never tell you about the cases of police officers looting deceased peoples' bodies to feed their addiction, or the amount of mail and parcel staff stealing customers post, fraud scams or cases even more sad and concerning such as that of Manchester headteacher John Reilly who's addiction was so severe that he'd racked up over £100k of debt and was tragically found dead having hung himself in a park.

Unfortunately it seems to be the current status quo that being concerned on such issues isn't something we should bother ourselves with. Whether that's because people themselves gamble and haven't experienced problems or because of creating a willing disconnection between their own lives and the other things that happen within their communities. It's not until it directly effects them that a lot of people will find themselves interested enough to be concerned. I never did get much response from social worker circles on places like Twitter upon mentioning my previous campaigning and addiction, and if anything my revealing of it may have caused yet more disconnection, if the banging on about intense and important child protection issues hadn't already of done that. But considering that care leavers are one of the demographics highly susceptible to gambling addictions then maybe it's something people should take more notice of. Saying that, I understand that it's easily hidden and unlike obvious addictions which leave psychical signs and symptoms gambling addictions doesn't so much unless you know the psychological effects to look for. With gambling addiction a person can simply appear stressed or with a mental health problem.

Despite how hard a fight it was at times for many campaigners to get support for the cause people pushed on and it seemed for some years that change was on the horizon.

I remember back in those days having the conversations with people whilst out flyering. "Their changing the law soon aren't they?" a lot of people would say. During those times there were no actual solid and set plans for the government to implement the £2 a spin limit on the machines which are officially called Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. At the time it was something that campaigners such as GRASP group had been working relentlessly to gain support for with various articles coming out in the media over a certain period of years. What was largely not revealed to the public and something that I was trying to raise awareness about was the battle going on between the few MP's that actually cared about the 'silent surge' in gambling addiction that stood alongside campaigners such as Tottenham MP David Lammy and others on the opposing end of the spectrum that were often unknowingly to the public either shareholders of well-known gambling firms or frequently given free hospitality at big sports events.

What also hadn't been widely spoken about was how when independent researchers into the Gambling Act 2005 tried to get a clear picture of the scope of it all how they were inundated with piles upon piles of bounded folders containing university studies, research from PR consultants and lobbyists that were all in one way or another funded by the gambling industry.

A lot of what has prevented meaningful change in regards to fully acknowledging the wider effects of gambling addiction has been largely a 'war of words'. Whilst campaigning all of those years ago I saw easily how misled the general public could be by articles that were initiated by industry-sponsored politicians that had even mentioned the £2 limit. Conservative MP's such as a John Whittingdale and Philip Davies were among some of those frequently defending the industry and misleading the public claiming that even greater 'liberalisation' of gambling laws relating to the machines in betting shops would of helped solve the problem of betting shop proliferation.

See, it wasn't just gamblers and their families being effected but also many local communities at the time were raising their concerns about the amount of betting shops that they were seeing sprouting up. Several groups appeared protesting the proliferation of betting shops in which a handful of labour MP's also got involved.

The £2 spin limit that campaigners from GRASP group as well as other groups had worked tirelessly for had seemed a good idea to help prevent those that were losing hundreds of pounds every few minutes. At the very least it could have given people more time to think about what they were actually doing because despite their being a spending limit that you can set on those machines in reality they do little to help a gambler escape the trance of bright lights and the lust of potential wins which take a hold of and play on the basic elements of our monkey brains more than people can often realise.

Articles were being put out for years before anything much was done, but in fairness to the the industry from what I can make out things have improved slightly in regards to betting shop staff providing support for those showing signs of addictions, but it would unrealistic to say that the industry has been revolutionised.

So, has the £2 limit per spin made any actual difference? Well it could of possibly made a little if it was true, and although we are told and it may seem that there is a £2 limit on fixed-odds betting terminals in betting shops, it's not exactly true.

Although I'm unsure of the limits on slots before the 'limit' came into place as back then it wasn't my thing, I'm unsure of the impact it's had, however, what I can say is is that despite this limit being in place people are still in betting shops (less so since the rise in online casinos) spending much bigger amounts than £2 per spin. The way this is circumnavigated is with a feature built into the game that allows the gambler to put chips on over the £2 limit, but what happens is that when you keep placing more chips over the limit there is a bar on the side of the screen that gradually turns from green to red. You then press 'spin' and if the sliding arrow lands on the green section the game plays the spin, or at least gives the animated illusion of doing so.

Given the strong grip I've seen these machines have on people it's no surprise that the same types of people that were feeding the machines with twenty and fifty pound notes every few seconds are now still doing exactly the same, but get even more conned out of the fact that they don't even get the chance of a spin the majority of the time. The belief that the roulette game on the machines actually has a £2 limit is a complete farce, and how this hasn't yet been spoken about publicly is beyond me.

I'm aware that this blog/article might find itself on the screens of those currently experiencing gambling problems. If this is the case I highly suggest you register with a service that blocks your ability to gamble online such as Gamban and Gamblock as well as self-excluding from all gambling premises in your local area.

More resources with further information and support can be found by clicking here.

Something REAL needs to be done about all of this. The Neuroliberation Campaign Facebook page is now almost soley ran by John Myers who's own son sadly lost his life to gambling addiction.

Thanks for reading. Peace.

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