Saturday, 19 May 2018


Most of us just don't get the appeal of FOBTS. Just like when we see those videos taken in public places in broad daylight of those characters standing stone still holding an unnatural gait debilitated by the drug Spice, we cannot spot anything that remotely tempts us into joining them.

It a makes a mockery of the arguments put forward by some downright liars that most FOBTS players enjoy this pastime and play the machines responsibly. All sorts of figures have been given airtime to throw in their two bob's worth over the past few days.

On one news item, they interviewed someone called Christopher Snowdon, who is the ' Head of Lifestyle Economics' at the Institute of Economic Affairs. With a rather smug persona, reminiscent of a member of the Howards Way cast, he casually remarked that playing the FOBTS did not differ from other forms of gambling.

Let's consider it comparatively with racing.

You go the races, you return light in pocket. As you recount how that one missed the break, how another was cruising on the snaff with nowhere to go, how you had narrowed the wide open handicap down to three, spit stakes on two of them and deserted the one that eventually won. How different it could have been if you had the rub of the green.

Then you'll probably add that apart from nothing going right on the punting front it was a decent day. You may even wonder whether you have seen a future star in that one that won the two year old maiden.

What do FOBTS players do when they return home? How do they recount and assess their day? Did they learn anything to take forward for their next session? Is there an equivalent for them to a horse racing punter noting a tenderly handled one for the future. In fact, is there any form of enjoyment at all that can be had from these cancerous machines.

We know that in addition to being an LBO's biggest and most assured earner, they provide a fix for people who are so addicted to them that they are bordering on being mentally unwell.

Consider again, you're a punter who has had a bad run on horses, footy, cricket, golf or other sports that are real and not computer simulations.

You take a sabbatical to reassess, take stock and get some funds back together. You may want to get stuck into something in the Ebor ante-post market, or plan to turn the year around on Oosthuizen at Carnoustie. It's aimed, considered and measured.

There is no equivalent on FOBTS, they just get straight back playing and keep on playing. One wonders where they get their supply of money from.

FOBTS have played their part in taking the traditional punters away from LBO 's. What at one time would be a losing slip scrunched up and thrown to the floor in disgust accompanied by, " that Mercer is a bin man ! ", then a stomping exit, does not emit the uneasiness created around the premises by a zombie continually sat at the machine for hours on end, gradually starting to show outward signs of agitation but concealing the furore of the volcano building up inside, with the unpredictability as to what may come next.

I've been inside an LBO less than ten times in the past five years. But I've witnessed someone freaking out on a FOBT and have been asked by a  manager whether I'd like a free spin voucher. Only doing what his superiors have ordered him to do but it's enough to make you not really care if he does lose his job when the changes finally take effect, which is not soon enough.

Hard to believe it now, but there was a time when many standing in an LBO would have their own copy of the Sporting Chronicle or Sporting Life - and it was not completely rare to spot someone with a Timeform Black Book or the bright red coloured Raceform Note Book.

And before racing started it was an everyday sight to see a punter carefully take the drawing pins out of the front page of the LBO's Sporting Life, turn it inside out, and note down the Dick Whitford ratings, then pin the page back as it was.

Many of those have either passed on, lost their enthusiasm or like many, conduct their betting via online accounts. These establishments are completely unrecognisable than those of thirty or forty years ago. They may be cleaner, smell nicer, but they can be very intimidating. If horse racing suddenly ceased to exist you would barely notice the difference from its final day to the first day without.

It was absolutely shocking on the televised ATR forum two weekends back when  David Williams was not challenged when he spouted some falsehood about FOBTS being a precursor to betting on the horses in the sense that all these zombies who step inside to play the FOBTS will eventually graduate to betting on horse racing. 

We know it's the other way round, that those with the finger in the high street bookmaking pie would dearly love the regular horse punters to migrate over to the machines hence the free vouchers from characters that Robert Helpmann would portray well.

Finally, despite all the warning shots fired by the bookmaking fraternity, and the noises made by some inside horseracing proper who convey the impression that the lives ruined by FOBTS are acceptable wastage for the greater good of racing, it's coming to an end on the scale we know it.

This means that all those who shamefully towed the line so as not to bite the hand that feeds, such as that infamous Alastair Down piece in the Racing Post where he played the FOBTS in an LBO, would look silly doing a U-turn and supporting the new legislation.

Just like all those MP's who supported the invasion of Iraq but now pretend they were against it all along, they have to either stand with their original published thoughts or be principled, hold their hands up and concede they were all along put under pressure by their employers deceive their audience.

If jobs go in LBO's then its not a great loss in the sense that the demands of working in such an environment will make these workers employable in other areas dealing with the public where they will most likely be better rewarded and work in a safer environment.

As for a shortfall in levy which further down the line may cause racecourses to shut, a reduction in prize money in the middle to lower tiers, and trainers to go out of business -  there is too much bland fare that is impossible to keep tabs on and makes the overall sport less appealing than it was years ago which has been one of the main reasons why the sport's share of the betting pie has been dwindling.

A culling of the fixture list would be fantastic news, racecourse closures less so. If trainers are forced out of business; well no one has a right to make a living out of a hobby. Many are barely keeping their heads above the sand anyway.

To be involved as outright owners or trainers, you need deep pockets and it is still very much the Sport Of Kings in that sense. We can at least come along and enjoy it, and can buy a ticket in where the outcome of a race has a bearing on our direct finances.

We can even turn it into a situation where say, for instance, the progress of Clive Cox's 2018 juveniles, or Nicky Richard's 2018/19 season novice chasers has a bearing on our standard of life. Something like that makes us feel very much a part of it all.

image by EdwardX attribution  creative commons

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