Showcase: David (with no sling) versus Goliath (on steroids) - the FOBTs campaign that beat the bookies

Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) might have risen to notoriety in recent years, but one key figure in a campaign to crack down on them admits he had never heard of them before being approached by a campaigner.

Derby full-service firm Agency Sauce (then bcsAgency) was approached in 2012 by Derek Webb, the inventor of Three Card Poker, with concerns about the machines.

The agency's owner Murray Carmichael-Smith told PRWeek Webb initially wanted to run a newspaper advertising campaign: Carmichael-Smith "recommended we look at the matter more strategically".

"The more delving I did into the topic, the more I could understand where Derek was coming from," he said. "There was absolutely zero awareness of these hideous machines. The media were ignoring them as the bookmakers were a major advertising revenue stream... it really did feel like we were David with one arm tied behind his back and no sling taking on Goliath on steroids."

Agency Sauce designed a website for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling and the Stop the FOBTs Campaign, which are funded by Derek. From a starting point of low public awareness, other work included trade and national press relations, enabling concerned members of the public to send letters to their MP and engaging with politicians, the first major one being Labour MP David Lammy.

It was through that website that Matt Zarb-Cousin, a former FOBT addict who had appeared on TV's Dispatches that year, got in touch.

Zarb-Cousin was then hired as a consultant to the campaign, later joining Jeremy Corbyn's office as an adviser before returning to work with Derek last year.

Zarb-Cousin's engaging, if divisive, style on Twitter has undoubtedly helped raise the campaign's profile, especially since his return from Corbyn's office, shortly after which Labour backed the campaign:

The Government last week promised to reduce maximum stakes to £2 from £100 - although this is still to be made law, with accompanying changes to tax on gambling believed to be in store in order to minimise overall loss in tax take. Other measures are proposed in the consultation response, including a tightening of advertising rules.

The stake reduction remains the campaign's focus. "Until it's implemented, everything [we do] has to focus on making it happen," Zarb-Cousin said.

While this campaign and others had been highlighting the ills of FOBTs, there has been a fierce backlash from the gambling industry, which has made arguments about job losses and attempted to undermine the credibility of opponents.

Zarb-Cousin told PRWeek that gambling firms including JenningsBet, GVC (the owner of Ladbrokes and others) and William Hill had all put out statements saying they would survive the stake reduction announcement. "I think they've cried wolf too many times and really eroded their credibility," he said. 

Agency tribute

Agency Sauce was the only outside agency involved on the campaign - its account team was Carmichael-Smith and two additional staffers.

Webb said: "When I first met with Murray, very few people even knew what FOBTs were. The fact that they are now part of the nation’s vocabulary is testament to him and the team."


Read next: Ban all advertising and promotion for gambling, Lord Chadlington tells Parliament

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