Nothing has filled the tabloids over the past few years more than FOBTs.
FOBTs (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) began appearing in UK high street bookmakers around 2001 but have gained popularity since the relaxation of gambling laws in the late 2000s.
While fruit machines have been allowed in pubs, cafes and clubs for decades, FOBTs were something new: traditional casino games like roulette, blackjack and video slots available via electronic terminals for the first time right off the high street.
There's no need to get a casino membership; FOBTs are available to anyone over 18, with stakes up to £100 permissible.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals were introduced around the early 2000s, crammed into corners of bookmakers without too much government regulation.
Players can enjoy touch-screen roulette games, similar to online roulette games played today, as well as blackjack and some big-brand video slots.
The most popular game is roulette, with virtual horse and greyhound racing available on some machines. Roulette bets are made by selecting a stake and touching the numbers or outside bets to place bets. In practice they're similar to mobile roulette games.
Payouts are made via tickets which are printed out by the terminals and cashed in at the bookie counter.
While traditional high street sportsbetting is on the slide, FOBTs have helped bookies balance the books. In fact, one recent study suggested over 260 new bookmakers shops were built in the last half of 2013 in the UK alone.
While regulation on FOBTs was pretty non-existent when the machines first appeared, UK lawmakers finally caught up with the terminals in the 2005 Gambling Act when they were classed as B2 Gaming Machines. That meant these touch-screen terminals contained casino games like roulette catagorised separately from B3 games like slots.
While maximum prizes were capped at £500 per spin, it was the speed at which players could gamble that caught the attention of protest groups.
It was estimated that players could gamble (and lose) up to £100 every 20 seconds playing FOBTs, with little regulation from bookies staff. But they're cash cows for high street bookmakers; over 33,000 machines were reported to exist in UK bookies in a 2012 report.
FOBTs and the phrase, "crack cocaine of gambling" became synonymous. Anti-FOBT movements have kept up their campaigns to have them banned from UK high streets, but so far they have remained. Currently, shops are restricted from having more than four terminals in one shop.
While maximum bets weren't controlled under the new Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act, bookmakers are more heavily taxed and problem gamblers receive more help. The same high bets remain, however, but warning signs appear on screens and self-imposed betting limits are available to players.
Until there's some government clampdown on FOBTs, don't expect them to go anywhere anytime soon. They make billions of pounds in profit for bookmakers struggling with a high street clientele moving online in greater numbers, and the government will continue to enjoy reaping taxes from them.
Many players flock online to read about FOBT cheats in an effort to get one leg over the bookies.
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