OUT on the betting shop front line Andy Bennett, of Scotbet in the Borders town of Selkirk, remains cautiously optimistic after the Halloween announcement of the nervously awaited consultation on gaming machine changes and further social responsibility measures.
“Tracey Crouch [the Minister for Sport, which gives her an overseeing Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport role on betting] came across sensibly and rationally,” he says, “especially when she highlighted the explosion in on-line gambling, which she explains now accounts for 44 per cent of the gambling market. This alone starkly emphasies that you cannot look at betting shops alone, otherwise the possible option of a £2 machines stake [a new limit per spin of between £2 to £50 will be imposed after the 12 week consultation, which closes on January 23, 2018] means we would face actually driving problem gamblers towards less regulated danger, when the intention was to protect them. It’s essential for conclusions to be evidence-based - mobile and internet in my view simply represent a bigger threat to punters than any shop Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT).”
He feels it was also noteworthy in the 62 page DCMS report that 99 per cent of FOBT shop sessions, according to the Gambling Commission, ended with an average stake of up to £50. “However, stakes on-line are significantly higher and who knows what sort of state of mind a punter might be in. At least in a shop you have to conduct yourself in an acceptable way . . . and not be drunk. If gambling addiction is seen as the secret addiction, then it has to be even riskier in private.”
He says the oft-repeated description of FOBTs being the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ with a spend of £100 every 20 seconds, or £300 a minute is an exaggeration. “To have a £100 spin you’d need to be registered and log-on, or go to the counter . . . people just don’t.
“Even so, sensible controls can only further protect players - such as requiring self-imposed limits to be made mandatory, instead of being currently voluntary. In our shop we also have a problem gambling leaflets kept within armshot. Our constant message and concern is to only gamble what you can afford. We are part of a society that faces a lot of issues, including alcohol and drug abuse, even obesity, but instead it’s bookmakers that seem to get it in the neck all the time. Yet the fact is the vast majority thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the betting shop experience.”
Bennett, 39, won the title of Racing Post/SIS Betting Shop Manager of the Year in 2011, he has now happily worked in the same Selkirk shop for nearly ten years.
“With my partner Tracy and son Kris, we live seven miles from the shop. Kris will be 12 in March and goes to High School next summer - it’s exciting for him and us, the job fits in well with our lives. Scotbet, the largest independent in Scotland, has some 48 shops, is chugging along nicely and offers real stability. Most of the staff have been here a long time and the chairman, John Heaton, seems satisfied . . . as long as the consultation does not come up with any calamitous cut in FOBT stakes!”
Bennett describes the arrival of a more accessible IBAS website as particularly welcome news. “IBAS is really important by taking an independent look at disputes in our industry, yet disaffected punters are often unaware of it - they retreat to social media and have a moan there. If they can instead see there is an easy route to actually progress a dispute and that bookmakers are happy to go along with a ruling from IBAS - it has to be a major plus. The transparency now involved is a real bonus.”
He says the most common dispute in his shop involves cup games that stretch to extra time. “People forget bets are struck for 90 minutes play and that can mean win/lose . . . or draw! We all know the rules here but it gets more complicated with say a bet on an obscure market involving a shot hitting the post. A punter might not know that this can be defined in some rules as the ball bouncing back into play.
“Also when you get an injury in a tennis match the outright usually stands but set betting is void - there’s always a potential dispute there, and it’s good for punters to know IBAS will study the fine print for them.”
Bennett is a people person and looks after his customers, arranging regular visits to his favourite course Kelso - just 18 miles away. “Kelso is really good to us too and this helps build a fantastic community spirit.”
He rates Frankel as the fastest horse he ever saw “but my favourite has to be Kauto Star - we’re all jumps fans here! Kauto won the hearts of everyone, partly because he was vulnerable to a mistake as he threw himself towards the fences. He was so exhilarating.”
He says his favourite trainer is Lucinda Russell. “She has Scotland's leading National Hunt yard, does a great job and was down to earth and charming when we met her at Kelso. Everyone was genuinely delighted for her and Peter Scudamore when their One For Arthur won the Grand National this year.”
Top riders for Bennett are Frankie Dettori and Adam Kirby. “My Manager of the Year prize took us on a dream trip to Dubai and Kris saw Frankie make one of his flying dismounts there - he’s never forgotten it.
“Every punter here also well knows that Adam is the ace up your sleeve for the all-weather - he’s both under-rated and superb.”
This long suffering Rangers fan still describes Ally McCoist as his hero. “Super Ally is a brilliant guy, even if the younger ones don’t quite understand that he remains Rangers to the core. He can and will do anything for you . . . and that’s simply the way everyone should be in life and business.”