Gambling Addiction Part II:

Rise of the Machines


When I am asked by people what I do for a living, and reply that I am a professional gambler, upon which a follow-up question often appears:

"Are you not addicted?"

For me the concept of a professional addicted gambler is somewhat oxymoronic. In order to be a professional I must regularly make money; in order to make money I must avoid straying from whichever method has given me success and in order to do that I must avoid compulsion. An addicted gambler is necessarily compulsive. So no, not addicted, and I'd be surprised if any professional gamblers are (at least not in the sense in which the question is asked...they may be addicted to working or making money but that is a different matter!).

The concept of compulsion brings me onto the subject for the second part of my series of articles on addiction, FOBTs (you can find the first part here). FOBT stands for 'Fixed Odds Betting Terminal', and if you already knew that then there is a good chance that you have spent a fair amount of time playing on one. This is very much a UK term, however in Australia they are known as ‘Pokies’ whilst a slimmed down version in the US would be a ‘Slot’

You will find these in every UK bookmaker, a mini casino in which a number of slot, roulette, blackjack games are found. They are similar enough to the 'casino' section of an online bookmaker's website for me to lump the two together as one flashy, musicy enticing turkish delight of a game. Simply put, they are the crack cocaine of the betting world and I loathe them. Head into any bookmaker and chances are you'll see a few shuffly types hanging around the machines, maybe playing several at once in order to increase the effect of the hit; it is a desperately sad sight. These have received a lot of negative attention in recent years, so much so that the maximum stake per spin has been reduced from £100 to £2. I am well aware that online casinos have far higher maximum stakes, as do the physical versions all over the world, especially in Vegas.

No system works on FOBTs. No-one is good or bad at playing them, it is not possible to have a 'system' as every system is as bad as every other system. What you do in no way influences the machine's ultimate goal which is to repay a percentage of what it receives, a percentage which is less than 100%.

Whilst in other forms of gambling it is possible to have an 'edge', this simply doesn't exist in the world of FOBTs. Sports gamblers may know more about particular teams or players than bookmakers, they may understand that unconsidered statistics affect games in ways that the bookmakers have yet to consider and poker players can obviously be better than other players. Those who play on the FOBTs have no edge, they are purely relying on luck which, the longer they play, the less they will receive until ultimately and inevitably their luck will run out.


I once sat down with a friend of a friend after a tennis match whilst living in Australia.

He was known for being fond of the Pokies and I wanted to dig a little deeper into the habit. He told me that he estimated that he had lost between $2-300,000 over the 10 years that he had been feeding the machines but was still unable to stop (this conversation occurred whilst he was playing). He knew what was going on, knew that there was no way that he would ever see that money again and that he was just draining away his finances little by little. His friend who was listening attentively piped up towards the end saying:

“But mate, you’re really good on this machine, you know all the tricks!”

I tried to explain that there were no tricks but my words were lost, they were both self-deceiving just enough to keep playing.

If you are winning in the:

- Short term - a day or two then well done, you've had little bit of luck. The majority at this point are losing;

- Medium term - a few weeks or month then you have been extremely lucky and have been beaten the odds. The vast majority at this point are losing;

- Long term - a year or so then you are lying. Everybody is losing.

Now if you are going to ignore my words and continue (or start) to play the FOBTs, then at least educate yourself a little. Bookmakers in the UK have to, by law, publish their payout percentage also known as the Return to Player (RTP). You'll find these percentages somewhere in their rules, help or terms and conditions. Here, for instance, is the RTP for a particular game at William Hill:

You will at least be able to choose the best, or rather the least bad game. There are, additionally, websites which list the RTP for every slot, along with cataloguing those that appear at each casino. Slotscatalog is one such website, so even if your chosen site doesn’t list the RTP in their terms, then at least it should be discoverable elsewhere.

If FOBTs or their online equivalent have become a problem then there is help. BeGambleAware offers advice and helpline open 7 days a week and a website has been set-up specifically to enlighten on the FOBTs, simply name stopthefobts.

If you do want to gamble then please avoid this form, there really is only one endgame. Stick to sports gambling, read up on how to beat the bookmakers or study poker strategies and just repeat to yourself that there is absolutely nothing that you can do to beat the FOBTs.

The scale of the problem

Percentage of regular FOBT users who go on to become problem gamblers

A call for help

Increase in calls to gambling helpline Gamcare from 2014-18