The Rise and Fall of FOBTs in the UK

Fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are a fixture in the UK gambling scene. These machines give players a chance to enjoy a variety of games, including bingo, horse racing (virtual), roulette, and slots.

Numerous FOBTs are found throughout Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. However, the numbers of FOBTs used to be much greater.

Fixed odds betting terminals are actually starting to decline in quantity. They’ve faced backlash from lawmakers and gaming regulators within recent years. Below, you can read about these games’ rise to prominence along with their fall from grace.

FOBTs Begin Entering Betting Shops

The UK used to be filled with fruit machines. “Fruities” are simple slot machines that are available in UK pubs and arcades.

Fruit machines typically offer three reels and between one and five paylines. Their standard features include nudge and hold.

Fruities have entertained UK gamblers for decades. However, they’re also basic games that are seen as relics by younger players.

FOBTs have largely replaced fruit machines as the most popular form of machine-based gambling. These terminals began entering UK betting shops in 2001 and quickly became a hit.

They give sports bettors, or any gambler in general, the ability to enjoy multiple types of gambling at the local betting shop. For example, somebody who feels like playing bingo, but doesn’t want to deal with slower parlor-based play, can walk to a nearby shop and quickly enjoy electronic bingo.

FOBTs Spread Rapidly Across the UK

It didn’t take long for fixed odds betting terminals to gain favor among UK gamblers. These machines were an instant hit upon being introduced in betting shops in the early 2000s.

Soon, bookies weren’t relying on sports wagering anymore. Instead, they were stuffing their businesses with as many FOBTs as possible.

Betting shops were becoming like casinos at this point. The many fixed odds terminals spread throughout their locations began to look like rows of slot machines.

Gamblers, meanwhile, appreciated more opportunities to bet locally. After all, not every community in the UK has a casino.

However, most towns and villages do feature at least one betting shop. Therefore, players were able to enjoy blackjack, roulette, and virtual horse racing without having to visit a casino or racetrack.

Gambling Act Introduces Restrictions

In 2005, British politicians came up with their biggest piece of gambling legislation ever — the Gambling Act. This set of laws governs the UK’s online and land-based gambling industry.

One key element of this legislation was a limitation on FOBTs in betting shops. The act limits each shop to just four fixed odds terminals.

This stipulation seemingly halted the massive spread of FOBTs. It caused many bookmakers to downsize the number of machines they offered in each location.

However, the clever bookmaking industry found ways around the law. They began opening more locations so that they could offer additional fixed-odds terminals.

This trend resulted in an explosion of both betting shops and jobs within the industry. Soon, shops were found on countless streets throughout the country.

Pressure Mounts on Regulators to Act

The Gambling Act of 2005 failed to adequately reduce the number of FOBTs. Therefore, conservative MPs and anti-gambling groups began putting pressure on the betting industry.

The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) responded by requiring that all terminals give gamblers the option to set betting limits. They also demanded that developers program machines to warn players who risk more than £250 or play more than 30 minutes.

The ABB temporarily appeased opponents of this type of gambling. Their moves also helped to slightly reduce the amount of problem gambling in the country.

However, some opponents still weren’t happy. After all, the ABB’s measures revolved around giving gamblers options rather than setting strict betting limits.

Reduced Stakes Deliver a Severe Blow

Some politicians and news outlets begin labeling FOBTs as the “crack cocaine of gambling.” They pointed to how fixed odds machines cause more problem gaming than anything else.

These cries drew the attention of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. The department started studying reduced FOBT stakes in October 2017.

FOBTs were previously allowed to offer maximum stakes worth £100 per round. After completing their research, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport recommended dropping max bets down to £2.

This proposal was approved by UK lawmakers in May 2018, and it officially went into effect in May 2018. Now, FOBTs can only offer maximum bets worth £2.

Many bookmakers were quick to point out that the reduced stakes would force them to close shops and cut jobs. William Hill took action almost immediately by closing over 700 shops throughout the UK.

Other betting companies didn’t make as drastic of moves. However, they too were forced to cut back in an effort to deal with declining FOBT revenue.

Despite the downsides, lawmakers stood firm on their decision. Parliament figures to stick with these lower stakes into the foreseeable future.

Where Are FOBTs Today?

FOBTs are still widespread in the UK. You won’t have trouble finding one of these terminals if you’re in a decent-sized town.

But the tide may be turning on this type of gambling. The stakes reductions severely limit how much one can wager on fixed odds betting terminals.

The lower stakes are definitely good as far as curbing problem gambling. But they also limit the win potential on fixed odds terminals.

You can’t win much on an electronic roulette or blackjack game when you can only risk up to £2. You’ll need to take virtual horses with long odds or chase big bingo prizes to win serious money with FOBTs.

Fixed odds machines still look to be fairly popular moving forward. However, this popularity will definitely wane as time goes on.

Some gamblers will simply head back to bingo halls, casinos, and racetracks. They have a better chance of winning serious money in these venues.

Others may still head down to the local betting shop and play FOBTs after making a sports wager. But they might become frustrated at how little they’ll be able to bet in each round.

Will Bookmakers Still Focus on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals?

The bookmaking industry initially grew on the strength of sports gambling. Of course, betting shops still rely on sports to a great degree.

In the early 2000s, though, they quickly found that FOBTs are just as lucrative as sports wagering, if not more so. They allow bookmakers to earn quick revenue through electronic gaming.

However, this revenue has gone down greatly following the aforementioned maximum stake reductions. Each bookmaking operation now faces a tough choice.

They can either continue relying on FOBTs despite the diminished max bets. Or bookies can put most of their concentration back on the industry that initially made them rich.

Some shops will still bank on money made through fixed odds betting terminals. Others, meanwhile, may explore more opportunities within the sports gambling world.

Jenningsbet, for example, noted that they plan on diving deeper into the horse racing industry. They’re seeking a, “more collaborative and healthy relationship with horse and greyhound racing.”

Paddy Power Betfair thinks that less reliance on FOBTs could definitely be a good thing. They note that the addiction caused by fixed odds terminals have soiled the betting industry’s reputation.

Conclusion

FOBTs were once the toast of the UK bookmaking industry. They’ve provided a huge amount of revenue to betting shops for years.

However, recent legal changes have dealt a serious blow to bookmakers throughout the country. Now, fixed odds betting terminals can’t offer bets any larger than £2.

The reduced stakes aren’t quite a death knell to FOBTs and bookmaking in general. However, they’ll definitely have a negative impact on the industry.

You can expect to see fixed odds terminals throughout the UK into the foreseeable future. But these machines will eventually exist is smaller quantities.

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Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.

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