Monday 20 May 2024

Raising the stakes

For as long as I can remember, the “one-armed bandit” has been an integral part of the pub scene. Starting as mechanical devices with a handle, they steadily morphed into ever more complex electronic machines. In the 1980s I did have a spell of routinely playing them, but for whatever reason lost the habit, possibly because they became increasingly hard to fathom out.

The government have now announced that, for the first time, debit card payments will be permitted for slot machines in addition to cash. This is a recognition of the declining role of cash in society, and brings them into line with other forms of gambling. Use of credit cards, which may result in players borrowing unsustainably to gamble, will still be prohibited.

It’s hard to argue against this in principle, as it simply creates a level playing field, although anti-gambling pressure groups inevitably will. Another reason is that restricting stakes to cash was adversely affecting the business of physical venues, including pubs. However, the change does have other implications for pubs.

The traditional cash slot machine was tied in with the general economy of the pub. Spare change might go in the machine, while winnings could be recirculated across the bar. Allowing card payments turns it into an entirely separate activity that just happens to take place in the pub. Pub staff will also be tasked with the responsibility of monitoring the amount of money being spent, which creates another administrative burden and could potentially lead to confrontations with punters.

It also isn’t made clear how winnings will be paid out if customers do not have some kind of registered account. If vouchers are issued that can be redeemed across the bar, it will inevitably attract the ire of anti-drink campaigners. Some people may not be happy with the fact that all card transactions are traceable, whereas just bunging a few pound coins in a slot machine is anonymous.

Restricting stakes to debit cards means that you can’t gamble with money you don’t have, but it does remove a certain level of inhibition. With cash, you can only use the money you physically have in your pocket, but it’s not hard to imagine someone getting a bit carried away and splurging next week’s grocery and petrol money, especially if they’ve got a few drinks inside them. It’s not something that’s ever really tempted me, but it’s well-established that gambling can be highly addictive.

So, while this may be a recognition of changes in society, it’s not going to come without potential problems.


  1. If you pay with card, could the winnings not be credited to the card?
    Why would the staff need to monitor the money spent? The machine could place a limit on each card number?
    You can differentiate between debit and credit cards, accepting only debit cards.

    And bringing out the snob in me, the only people you ever see playing the fruitees are people that give every impression of people blowing their benefits. The type of people that the CAMRA pubs ensure are unwelcome.

    If you did want to restrict welfare recipients blowing their dole, cashless is a more effective medium than cash for limiting what people can spend on what. Not saying you should, but it becomes possible to keep the doleys off the fruitees and cider and on the quinoa and broccoli.

    But I'm with you, they look awfully complicated these days. They should make them simple enough for kids.

    1. Does the mere act of using a debit card give the payee sufficient information to transfer winnings into your bank account?

      And the article says that staff will be required to monitor spending - it's not me.

    2. you can credit both debit and credit cards, like they process refunds.
      but my point was if you wanted to prevent people gambling money they didn't have, you could restrict credit cards and only accept debit cards.

      if your motive was "responsible gambling" which really is just restricting what people can do, cards appear more effective than cash for that purpose.

      the determined can always open multiple monzos, tides and starlings, I guess.

      you'd need to electronically simulate the kerching sounds of winning as no coins are dropping, and thats an important part of the game.

      if you want a long winded comment, I'll tell you about the time I worked an IT contract for an online gambler. Enough of an eye opener to turn someone into a puritan.

  2. Personal responsibility gone mad!

  3. Cookie isn't wrong, fruit machines attract the scrote element.
    CAMRA Real ale micropubs can live without them.

    They are like sky sports and karaoke, a warning sign.

  4. Seems to be a 'problem' where the solution could be more complicated than just giving punters cashback to use in machines. Winnings will presumably need to be credited back to the debit card, which could take several days, or maybe in the form of a voucher that can be exchanged for cash at the bar, which kind of defeats the object of the proposals in the first place. Either way, this just seems to be making it easier for people to gamble and looks very much like another result for the gambling lobby who the Tories are more than happy to support. Hopefully they won't have time to implement the proposals before the next government.

    1. Not sure this is really a party political issue given that Labour were very keen on gambling liberalisation in their last term of office. But it does pose practical issues that don't seem to have been fully thought through.

  5. I have never seen the attraction of fruit machines and consider those who play them to be rather stupid. The typical player will tell you he just puts in a few spare coins now and then but this is rarely the truth... he will be playing constantly until his money runs out. The few fruit machine players I have known (and I'd rather not have known them) have nothing and rely on borrowing, benefits and theft. The whole business of fruit machines is immoral, and that includes by extension pub operators who see the machines as part of their income, though fortunately some pubs don't have them. I'll stick to dominoes and crib ta.

    1. On the question of morality, much is made of whether you place responsibility on an individual or a system (usually a state governing body) for actions. A liberal perspective often decides the weight of responsibility should sit with an individual to exercise choice in regard to what they do. My views lend to that perspective.

      There is a but. The laws and regulations of a societal system limit freedom and more often do so to protect us from the bad actions of others.

      The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. For a business that’s 80% of profits come from 20% of customers. That’s a problem for vice industries like booze and betting. The business is sustained by addicts not responsible customers.

      Nor is this an observation of evil big business. I’ve attended CAMRA meetings and observed the member that is an alcoholic, and that alcoholism politely ignored. It’s not the independent pub serving him every hour of every day that is a problem. The evil is the mega brewers making a beer he never touches. The vices we enjoy responsibly are sustained by those that ruin their lives with them.

      In gambling, the profits come from the addicts. What I learnt from my stint at an online gambler is the games are designed to be addictive. Phycologists are hired in game design. How people play the games are recorded and algorithms designed to offer bonuses and nudges to players to keep them playing. Crunching a lot of data and paying IT bods like me a chunk of bunce to crunch it, and cleverer people to understand what it means. Big losers are given large credits to encourage them to continue when they stop. A player who a credit check tells you earns a modest £30k a year but loses £20k a month is given a credit of thousands to continue when they stop. We’ve taken their life savings, now let’s go for their house. Addiction is understood and they don’t even know they are being induced to continue. Addicts are bled dry.

      As I said, I’m a liberal freedom of choice kid of chap, but the business of gambling fits any definition of evil you may choose. It’s not a game of chance. How does that stand with principles of freedom of choice?

      As for fruit machines, there is enough data gathered to identify patterns and know when to offer the nudges and credit bonuses to keep going. The people that play them are being played themselves. Card payment offers player identity. The machine now knows the players pattern not a general pattern. It’s not a fair game, but what is?

    2. @Cookie "It’s not a game of chance". Nailed it, especially with fixed odd betting machines and amusement with prizes. They declare that a certain percentage will be retained. The longer anyone plays, the more the odds play out. Long term, the punter cannot beat the house.

    3. It's more than that @Electric. The game has calculated when you are likely to give up so when to give you a free nudge or bonus credit to get you to have one more go. The game being played is you.

  6. Much of the fun of winning on a one armed bandit is the clattering noise made by the coins falling out of the machine.
    But I suppose that could be replicated electronically

  7. Why not go back to the old idea of buying tokens over the bar? If there's any need to control the purchases, then it's presumably the landlord's discretion...

    I agree the 'clatter' of winnings is a great sound, and the old tokens (the size of a sixpence), made exactly the same noise!

  8. You've all got iplayer
    Look up a show called Dopesick. One of the better series on there.

    It's the story of Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers and the American opioid crisis. A fascinating and well made TV series.
    Here in the UK opioid pain killers being addictive are prescribed with care and mainly in palliative care. In America they prescribed opioid's for routine pain after Purdue lied about inventing a none additive opioid. Addicting people who never chose to become druggies.

    Freedom of choice arguments are a problem when talking about addiction and addictive products.
    It's one thing accepting your product can cause addiction, it's another thing entirely to go about creating addicts for profit.

    It's not as cut and dried as saying people have freedom to make rational choices when it comes to addictive products.

    1. But how do we legislate for this, given that betting is a natural human instinct, and if you ban it you just drive it underground where it is entirely unregulated?


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