Fixed Odds Betting Terminals or FOBTs have generated a lot of publicity in the UK especially for the large amounts people can lose on them. They have proven to be very powerfully addictive for some people, who cannot stop playing them despite losing in some cases tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds on them.
In response to mounting pressure, the UK Goverment imposed a £2 per spin stake limit on FOBTs from April 2019 in an effort to curb the potential losses that can be accrued by users within a set time period. Before that, players could bet up to £200 per spin, sometimes losing thousands within a few hours or less.
These restrictions will no doubt lessen the amount people can lose in a set time period. There are also knock on effects to these restrictive policies though.
Will people simply play for longer, perhaps deepening the addictive pathways in their mind/brain? Will they play multiple machines, or gamble through other avenues such as online and over the counter once they are hooked on the adrenaline fix of risking large amounts of money?
Time will tell. In some senses, this article has been written too late, and would have been more useful in the days where £200 spins were still allowed. However, we want to put together a resource with some options to help people who are still struggling with FOBT addictions, regardless of the stakes allowed, and struggle to come off them, even when they are losing money.
The legislation has only been in force for a few months at the time of writing, so it is perhaps too early to say whether it has really reduced the instances of problem gambling. This article may be redundant now! However, if some people still are struggling with FOBT use or gambling addiction in general, then here are some resources to help deal with it.
The Power of FOBT Addiction
A great video on technology addiction – can be applied directly to FOBTs
FOBT addiction has proven to be one of the more powerful and difficult addictions to break. Users struggle to stop even if they are losing large amounts of money. Here are some reasons as to why FOBT addiction can be so powerful and all consuming for sufferers:
1. Intermittent Rewards – Gambling relies on an intermittent reward system, in other words, you don’t know when the next “hit” is coming. It could be the next one, it could be 4 or 5 away, 10 away or more. This reward pattern has proven to be the most addictive, as it draws users into a “just one more hit” approach, absolutely sure this next one will be “the one” that brings the reward. This is especially so with FOBTs.
2. Speed of Play – There is not the same time delay with FOBTs as with other forms of gambling. Every 30 seconds or so you can get another “hit”, meaning that powerful addictions can be formed using FOBTs in a much shorter amount of time than other addictions. Maximum stakes have been reduced in the UK in an attempt to limit the amount that can be lost in a given time period.
3. Desperation – In many cases gambling addicts are thousands of pounds in debt, and are not thinking rationally. They are desperate, just hoping for a bit win to cover some of the huge losses they have sometimes racked up. They see continuing to gamble as their only option.
4. Tolerance to Winning “Buzz” – Winning a large amount of money early on when starting out playing these machines can give a powerful “buzz”, which some users will constantly try to recreate by continuing to play, even when the wins turn to losses. As with any addiction though, a tolerance can grow.
5. Shallow Advice – The standard, shallow advice given in information leaflets and alerts on the terminals themselves (“take a break”, “don’t gamble when depressed”, “stay aware” etc) is inadequate and zero use to someone desperately stuck in a gambling addiction and hundreds or thousands of pounds out of pocket. Sufferers need real solutions and not cliched tips and action points which don’t move the bar at all.
6. Strong Physiological Aspect – FOBT addiction more than most other addictions is accompanied by a strong physiological reaction when large amounts of money are being staked. This can be sweating palms, racing heart, adrenaline rush, and so on.
Dopamine can also play an important role in this type of addiction, since it is often the anticipation of pleasure, not the pleasure itself, that causes dopamine to be released in the body. The whole idea of intermittent rewards is based on the concept of anticipating the next pleasurable “hit”.
It can visibly change body physiology more noticeably and acutely than other addictions, especially when large amounts of money are being won or lost. This is precisely what we suggest can be used to defeat it – see the section below for why.
Using Bilateral Stimulation to Lessen the Power of FOBT Addiction
We have gone into how FOBT gambling addiction can get sufferers “worked up” physiologically into a state of fight-flight anxiety, but what exactly can be done with this? There is a therapeutic method called bilateral stimulation which can be used to dissolve this fight-flight response and lessen any addictions and compulsions associated with it.
It is normally used as part of the process of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reproccessing, or EMDR, an aggressive and penetrative form of psychotherapy which is used to dissolve internal states of psychosomatic distress which have arisen in the person. It is normally used for treating trauma, but can also be used for a variety of other conditions, including addiction.
Most importantly, when used correctly, bilateral stimulation can actually permanently dissolve distressing internal states of fight-flight and anxiety. It can actually move the bar and pull a person out of an addictive and distressing state of heightened physiological arousal, where cliched tips and advice are likely to be completely ineffective in most cases.
Here is the general process for using some kind of self administered bilateral stimulation to treat heightened states of physiological arousal that an FOBT addiction can generate in a gambler:
- You need to be able to “catch” this state of physiological arousal as you are engaging in the compulsive activity. Notice when you are using an FOBT and you have some kind of strong physiological reaction – sweating palms, fast beating heart, adrenaline surge, dopamine rush etc.
- Once you have this state of fight-flight anxiety clearly activated, stop the gambling (does require strong willpower and self control) and switch immediately over to some form of self administered bilateral stimulation. See the videos below for some examples.
- Focus clearly on both your internal state of psychosomatic arousal and on the external stimulus of the dot moving around (see the videos below) or some other form of bilateral stimulation. Also pay attention to any other thoughts, feelings, body sensations which come up during this process.
- It is this dual focus of attention – focusing on both internal arousal and external stimulus simultaneously – which allows the bilateral stimulation to be effective. It stimulates the mind/brain into dissolving the physiological state of arousal and also any accompanying emotional dynamics which underpin this state.
- If successful, then the compulsion to return to the addictive activity is often lessened, since the addictive internal physiological state it generates has been dissolved. In the case of powerful addictions it may need several rounds of treatment to produce the full effect.
- The most difficult part of the process is pulling oneself away from the addictive activity to adminster the bilateral stimulation instead, whilst the internal fight-flight state is still activated within you. This is hard but can be done if the person wants to get rid of their addiction badly enough.
Here are some good videos for self adminstering bilateral stimulation:
More bilateral stimulation videos – click thumbnails to view:
We should emphasize again that using the videos to self administer the bilateral stimulation will not by itself be effective if there is no internal state of physiological arousal or anxiety to actually “work with”.
There needs to be both an internal and an external focus of attention – a dual focus of attention – for this kind of treatment to be effective in dissolving anxiety and lessening the power of addictions and compulsions.
There has to be something “live” inside you to work on for it to be effective; hence why there is an aspect of delving back into the addiction somewhat and reawakening the physiological reactions that accompany it. You then actually have something that the bilateral stimulation can work on. Just applying it in a steady, non-aroused state likely won’t have any impact.
Mindfulness As Another Tool to Help Beat FOBT Addiction
Another excellent resource that people suffering with FOBT addiction, or any other addiction or compulsion, is to use the regular practice of mindfulness meditation to increase self awareness and better understand the patterns of the mind which may be driving addictions.
One of the crucial aspects of any addiction is a kind of “checking out” or shutting off of self awareness, and instead an immersion in addictive activities and thought processes (obsessions) that move a person’s mind from a broad self awareness to a closed off, narrow fixated mindset where the addiction becomes the only real priority, to the detriment of everything else.
In it’s simplest form, mindfulness simply involves the regular use of simple meditation exercises to bring the mind back into the present moment, paying attention to breathing, any or all of the five senses, or thoughts and emotions in order to “check back in” with what is actually going on inside the person’s mind and body on a moment to moment basis.
This has the key benefits of broadening a person’s awareness back out again and allowing them to step out of their addiction a little and see it more clearly. Once addictions, or any other mental problems and emotions, can be seen more clearly and from more of a detached distance, they can be much easier to let go of.
The regular practice of mindfulness also puts an extra layer of awareness around addictive processes, so we can see mental processes are actually driving them. Once we begin to practice daily meditation for a few weeks or months, we start to see more clearly moment to moment thought patterns which lead on to others things, like addictive acting out. eg. When I get angry/have a fight/think about X, I gamble.
Rather than being caught up in the addiction, we start to be able to observe it from more of a distance, after which it loses some of it’s power over us. Part of what makes addiction so distressing is that sufferers feel caught up in unconscious patterns and loops that they aren’t aware of and feel powerless to control. They just feel a compulsion to gamble, but don’t know where it comes from or why.
Mindfulness pulls us back from this fixated mindset and in time allows us to see things more clearly. Another way of looking at it is that when some people use mindfulness to dissect their addiction, they start to see there is nothing inherently good or pleasurable about it, and they are no longer interested in doing it. See our article on some Buddhist perspectives on addiction for some differents ways in which meditation can loosen the power of addictions.
See our mindfulness resources page for some good presentation videos on the topic of mindfulness, as well as some simple introductory meditation exercises which can get people into the habit of mindful awareness, which can in turn help lessen their attachment to addictions and other problems like anxiety and depression. It does require regular practice and patience to deliver permanent results.
Summary of Real Action Points to Beat FOBT Addiction
So we will summarize our article here with some bulleted action points which will hopefully really help to move the bar in helping people with an FOBT addiction. You can’t rely on shallow cliched machine alerts and information leaflets from the bookmakers themselves, since they have a conflict of interest and want people to stay on the machines, not come off them.
Here is a summary of the main things to start off with when confronting an FOBT addiction or a gambling addiction in general:
- Be aware of the addictive nature of gambling, and especially of how an intermittent reward system is one of the most effective ways to get someone hooked on a certain activity. The video above is a good introduction; more videos on the topic can be found here and here.
- Use bilateral stimulation to help dissolve the state of fight-flight physiological arousal that often accompanies high risk, high stakes addictive activities. When successful, this often reduces the compulsion to engage in that activity.
- Supplementing this with the regular practice of mindfulness meditation can help to increase self awareness, to see any other thought patterns which may underlie a powerful addiction eg. When i feel X, I do Y. Mindfulness puts an extra layer around addictive thought processes so you can start to see them more clearly and understand where they come from.
- The cliched action points, like “Take a break”, “Don’t gamble when depressed” etc. can also be useful, when used alongside a deeper understanding of how addictions and compulsions form. On their own they are not much use for someone caught in a severe addiction; you need to go much deeper than that to really tackle strong addictions.
- Ban yourself from all bookmakers in your area. You can also self exclude from online betting sites. You can do this individually or UK bookmakers now haves a Multiple Operator Self Exclusion or MOSES scheme, where you ring a number and organize a complete exclusion from all bookmakers in your area. You need 2 passport sized photos to send off.
- Seek the help of a qualified therapist trained in addiction if you have the resources to do so.
- Seek to surround yourself with supportive people who encourage you in coming off the machines. You need to let go of people who encourage you to keep gambling or are associated with that gambling and “bookies” world and will draw you back in.