Last week finally saw the announcement of the UK government’s decision regarding the much debated Fixed Odds Betting Machines now common in almost all our betting shops. Much to the surprise of many observers of the gambling industry they have decided to reduce the maximum stakes on these machines from the current level of £100 to the lowest of all the predictions, as little as £2. Needless to say the decision has been greeted with elation by the increasingly vocal ante gambling lobby, but with predictable dire warnings from many of the leading bookmakers which own the betting shops on our high streets. Since the introduction of online gambling more and more of us here in Ireland and in the UK now do our sports gambling online rather than through our local betting shops, and this has clearly effected the turnover and consequently the viability of many of those high street shops. Many of the online sports gambling sites are of course operated by the same bookmakers which own the betting shops, but the success of online gambling has also led to the arrival in the sports gambling sector of a number of bookmakers who concentrate solely on internet gambling and have no high street presence. This means that not only has the turnover through high street betting shops reduced due to online sports gambling, the total turnover from online sports gambling is now split between more bookmakers thereby increasing the negative effects on the big bookmakers which operate betting shop estates. For many years now most of those big bookmakers have said that it is only the FOBT’s located in those betting shops which have kept them commercially viable, so it is no surprise that they are now warning that many of those betting shops are likely to close and their staff face redundancy. Here at gambling.ie we have always tried to take a balanced view of this particular debate and will continue to do so as we report on what actually happens to those betting shops and the men and women currently employed in them, but the growth in popularity of these casino gambling machines is also very interesting. Once again it was the big bookmakers who began to introduce us to the idea of online gambling who also identified the market for playing gambling games online. Before they began to add a few gambling games to their online sports gambling sites, playing gambling games was largely restricted to playing casino gambling games at a real casino or playing bingo at one of the many bingo clubs in our towns and cities. It was undoubtedly the introduction of online casino gambling which raised the profile of casino games such as roulette for a wider audience, and which coupled with the huge range of online slots gambling games now featured on almost every online casino gambling site created the appetite for playing the FOBT’s in the first place. Many of the people playing roulette on one of these machines in the betting shops have never set foot in a real casino, and have probably never played roulette in any other way.
We should point out however that not everyone in the gambling industry is predicting dire consequences as a result of this attack on these machines, and even some of the big bookmakers, including Ireland’s most popular bookmaker Paddy Power, are not totally against this approach to the problems associated with these machines. In fact many independent observers in the gambling sector are also predicting that reducing the maximum stakes on the machines located on our high streets may even simply move the problem online where there are no such restrictions. The accessibility of online casino gambling is now so widespread that most gamblers who currently use these machines will have no problem continuing to play roulette for the same high stakes at any of the growing number of online casino gambling sites, so that this legislation will force the closure of many betting shops but problem gambling will still remain a major concern. Whether Ireland will eventually go down a similar route is probably dependent on the effects we see in the UK, but for the moment our betting shops will continue to depend on these casino gambling machines to survive. These concerns clearly only effect the fortunes of the bookmakers who own betting shops, which in Ireland is Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and to a lesser extent Betfred. The internet only bookmakers such as Bwin, 888 and Party Gaming may even benefit from the situation if the FOBT players move online.
We should not forget however that none of these bookmakers are totally reliant on people enjoying playing gambling games. All of them also have a huge sports gambling customer base many of whom may never play casino gambling games at all. The bookmakers such as Paddy Power and Ladbrokes were of course very well known to sports gambling fans through their chain of betting shops even before the onset of online gambling, but Bwin and 888 have had to build their following through a number of high profile sponsorship deals covering a variety of sports and of course major football teams such as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. All these bookmakers do now of course also offer a huge range of gambling games on their online sports gambling sites, and although it is possible to play many of these games for quite high stakes it is also possible to play most of them for much smaller stakes than we can in any real casino, bingo hall or even slot machine arcade. In many people’s eyes that is the main reason why playing gambling games online has proved so popular and why online gambling in all its forms has gone from strength to strength over the years. Once again the leading bookmakers who began the online gambling experience have been joined in the sector by a number of specialist online casino gambling companies offering online gambling sites solely dedicated to offering casino gambling games.