So what do we actually want done about this? As we've said, the UK Government is currently conducting a wide-ranging review of gaming law, with a view to replacing the outdated 1968 Gaming Act with a new bill regulating all aspects of gambling. We want that bill to include specific legislation controlling the way that fruit machines operate.
- we do NOT want fruit machines to play randomly, in the style of US machines. UK fruit machines play in a much more entertaining manner than their American counterparts, but there is no need whatsoever for them to cheat in order to play in this way.
- we want to see "no-win gambles" specifically and explicitly outlawed. Such gambles are already against the law, as we've shown on this site, but for the sake of absolute clarity we'd like to see a fruit-machine-specific law in the new bill, preventing manufacturers from creating machines which present the player with false gambles which cannot be won in any circumstances.
We also want machines to be explicitly prevented from misleading the player as to whether their input affects the outcome. For example, if the success of a "Hi-Lo" gamble is purely dependent on a random chance, regardless of which option the player selects, then that is misleading and should be outlawed.
- we want the minimum payout level to be enshrined in law. At the moment, it is perfectly legal to operate a fruit machine which pays out just 5% or even 0% of its takings. The 70% minimum at which most machines currently operate is purely voluntary and not enforceable by law. We want a legal minimum to be set and enforced. This would also require setting a specific period over which the percentage had to be attained, since the current indefinite period makes any percentage figure meaningless.
We also see no justification for the minimum to be set as low as 70%. Most other forms of gambling, including all casino games, operate successfully on margins of between 1% and 3%, and US slot machines do perfectly well on typical margins of 5%. There is no need for UK machines to grab such a huge percentage of takings as 30%. We believe the legal minimum payout should be set no lower than 85%. (A minority of UK machines already operate at this level, without bankrupting their operators.)
- we want to see machines forced to display the exact percentage payout at which they're currently set. This is very easy to achieve, requiring only a small LED display visible to the player to be set into the cabinet, and allows players to fairly assess the odds before they embark on a gamble, as is the case with every other kind of gambling. It also prevents currently-widespread deceitful behaviour such as machines with a "MINIMUM PAYOUT 70%" label being set at very high percentages in the first week or two of siting to entice players to play, then being switched down to 70% with no way for the player to know the odds have changed dramatically against them.
- and finally, we'd like to see children banned from playing fruit machines entirely. Currently, children are allowed to play fruit machines which have a maximum jackpot of £5 cash or £8 in tokens. These are gambling devices, and children are not legally permitted to bet on horse-racing, football matches, roulette, blackjack, lottery tickets, scratchcards or any other form of gambling.
There's a good reason for this - gambling is a potentially dangerous and addictive pastime, which ought to be the subject of an informed and adult decision-making process. Pretending, as is currently the case, that the lower-jackpot versions of fruit machines (which play in the exact same way as their bigger counterparts) are somehow innocent fun with no connection to "adult" gambling is a bit like selling "junior cigarettes" with slightly lower tar content to the under-10s, or "training vodka" with only half the alcohol content. Gambling is gambling.
But they would end the criminal defrauding of the UK public which has been continuing unabated for the last 20 years to the tune of tens of millions of pounds, and restore fairness and respectability to this most deceitful and illegal form of "gambling". We don't think that's too much to ask.