Few things have been as controversial and been in the news as much as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. First introduced to the country’s betting shops in 1999, FOBTs are essentially electronic slot machines with numerous different game types available for those that want to play them. All games give users a chance to bet on the outcome of an event that has fixed odds, hence the name.
FOBTs also have a set Return To Player amount, which the law says has to be displayed on the side of it. There is an in-built edge to the ‘house’, or the bookmaker that owns the machine, and it’s typically quite high. We’re talking in the region of six to ten percent. The major difference is with roulette games on FOBTs, which have an average RTP of 97%. Using touchscreen technology, the machines are extremely popular.
Types Of Games Available
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals allow users to play a number of different game types, depending on what they are interested in. By far the most popular game for most people who play on the machines is roulette, which works exactly how you’d imagine a computerised version of roulette to work. When the machines were first introduced the minimum stake was £1 and the maximum was £100, with a maximum possible payout of £500. The maximum payout also limited the maximum stake on single numbers to £14.
Those minimum and maximum amounts on the FOBTs changed when the government changed the law surrounding the maximum stake and reduced it from £100 to £2. Those different stake rates were put in place across all games, of which the following is a representative sample of the sort of games you’re able to play on them:
- Simulated horse racing
- Simulated greyhound racing
- Slot machine style games
- Other casino card games
As you can see, as long as you don’t mind computerised versions of the sorts of games you can find in a casino a Fixed Odds Betting Terminal has pretty much every option that you could hope for. There are almost as many slot machine style games as you’re likely to find online, for example, whilst most of the major table games in casinos are also covered.
FOBTs act a little bit like a one-stop-shop for your casino needs, though the key thing to remember is that both the odds and the RTP amount are fixed. That means that over the long run the house will always win on all of the games, so if you find yourself up then you’ll want to stop playing in order to ensure that you stay that way.
How The Machines Are Classed
The United Kingdom Gambling Commission always ensure that there is a classification put onto any form of gambling. Things are no different for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals than they are for slot machines or lottery games, having been assigned a category by the UKGC that determines how the machines are supposed to act in terms of stakes and payouts.
At the time of writing, the Gambling Commission has classed FOBTs as Category B2. That means that they are able to offer games that are classed both as B2 and B3 as well as C, which results in an interesting mix of game types that all have different fixed odds and different RTPs. The games have to tell you what they are, so it’s worth looking at the small print before playing them.
Machines that fit into Category B2 can only be located in casinos, betting shops and at racing tracks that allow pool betting. As a result, locations hoping to offer a B2 machine must have one of the following:
- 2005 Act casino operating licence
- 1968 Act casino operating licence
- general betting standard operating licence
- a pool betting licence
On top of that, companies that manufacture the machines need to ensure that they have a gaming machine technical licence, with different types available depending on the business that they run.
Another thing that’s important to note is that Category B2 machines, along with machines that fit into Categories B1 and B3, must be tested regularly by an independent test lab in order to ensure that they fit with the technical standards that have been laid out by the UKGC.
The ‘Crack Cocaine’ Of Gambling
Whilst Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are remarkably popular, with the United Kingdom Gambling Commission saying that betting shops housed more than thirty-three thousand of them back in 2012, they aren’t all that popular with gambling awareness groups. They were labelled as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling because of the addictive nature of them. Bettors were able to spend £100 every twenty seconds, leading to punters losing huge amounts of money in short spaces of time.
That in turn led to increased pressure on the government to do something about it, resulting in a cut to the maximum stake that saw it drop down to £2. That has removed the ability of the machines to cause such devastation to the people that use them, but it has had knock-on effects that the government was warned about by the likes of the Association Of British Bookmakers. It resulted in hundreds of shop closures around the country, such was the dependency on the machines to keep high street stores afloat.
Another form of criticism has been levelled at them on account of the fact that criminal gangs are believed to use them to launder money. They don’t pay out cash but give you a voucher for your winnings that you exchange for money at the shop’s counter. This means that criminals can play games with relatively low stakes and then get a voucher to swap for different ‘clean’ cash, thereby laundering their money. The Gambling Commission has worked hard to eradicate this possibility.
Lower Stakes, Fewer Bookies
As mentioned, the government’s decision to reduce the maximum stake payable on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2 has also resulted in the closures of numerous bookmakers around the country. Between April and November 2019, for example, more than a thousand betting shops were forced to close their doors as the companies that ran them began to react to the combination of the reduction in maximum stake and the increase in the Remote Gaming Duty.
Fred Done, the owner and founder of the betting firm Betfred, said that bookies were left ‘fighting for their lives’ as a result of the government’s decision. With nearly another thousand bookies scheduled to close by 2021, it’s understandable that they are feeling the effects of having one of their biggest cash cows limited somewhat.
Yet not everyone is sympathetic. Obviously anti-gambling campaigners don’t feel that it’s a problem and the reality is that the machines aren’t being stopped altogether. All the government’s ruling has done is to ensure that the FOBTs can’t be used as a ‘licence to print money’ and must make smaller amounts of profit rather than no profit at all.
Even former bookmakers were quick to point out that the introduction of FOBTs ‘increased social degradation in our communities’. They admitted that the major problem was that Fixed Odds Betting Terminals accounted for about 50% of the profit being made by a high street bookie, with even more than that in some case.
From our point of view, of course, what we’re interested in is the fact that you can still use them to play casino games inside the bookmakers that are still open, with the only difference being that nowadays it’s much more likely that you’ll be doing so in a manner that is much less likely to cause you financial hardship.