High-stakes gambling machine crackdown rejected

Twenty pound notes The machines, located in betting shops, can accept stakes of as much as £100

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The government has ruled out a crackdown on high-stakes gambling machines from betting shops despite warnings about their addictive nature.

The machines can accept stakes of up to £100 and offer prizes of £500.

Culture minister Hugh Robertson said there was little evidence they caused serious problems despite an MP calling them the "crack cocaine" of gambling.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling said the casino-style machines were often used by people with problems.

In a Commons debate on Thursday, Mr Robertson rejected the idea of creating new laws to restrict fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) or the betting shops where they are located.

The minister said he would only change the law if there was new evidence.

A recent Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report recommended that local authorities should be able to allow bookmakers to operate more than the current limit of four high-stakes machines per shop.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling said the machines should be banned from betting shops on the High Street with immediate effect.

'Addictive product'

The organisation, backed by psychologist Prof Jim Orford, said they were too addictive and should be restricted to casinos only.

Matthew Zarb-Cousin, a former addict who lost about £16,000 on gambling machines, works with the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. He told the BBC that the maximum £100 stake encouraged dangerous patterns.

He said a maximum stake of £2 should be introduced, effectively banning the high-stakes machines from prominent locations.

"What we've seen here is what looks like an addictive product, a harmful product to the consumer, that's been allowed to go onto the market without knowing how harmful that product is.

"All we have is this anecdotal evidence that these machines are harmful and it doesn't look like the government are taking this issue seriously, especially with the stigma that surrounds problem gambling," he said.

However, Mr Robertson said the government would be prepared to bring in new laws to clamp down on the spread of betting shops.

Start Quote

This is one of those quite tricky areas where common sense suggests there is a major problem but there is a lack of evidence to back this up”

End Quote Hugh Robertson MP Culture minister

Ciaran O'Brien, from bookmakers Ladbrokes, denied FOBTs were a major problem and said the industry takes action to fund "research, education and treatment" for addicts.

He said the average spend on a gambling machine was just under £7, while the average stake on a betting slip is £8.40.

"The vast majority of people enjoy their... experience and do it very responsibly. Where there is problem gambling its important the industry acts responsibly and we have a very good track record at doing so," Mr O'Brien added.

Meanwhile, Dirk Vennix, chief executive at the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), said the "vast majority" of the gambling industry's eight million customers spend "safely and responsibly".

He told BBC Radio Five Live: "They are adults who think about what they spend and how much they can lose - they are not stupid."

Mr Vennix denied that betting shops were becoming more prolific on Britain's high streets, saying bookmakers constituted just 4% of retail space in town centres.

Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins wants the government to take a tougher stance.

He said: "The most addictive form of gambling is on fixed-terminal... machines. They are indeed described as the crack cocaine of problem gambling. Is the government seriously concerned about gambling addiction and when are they going to address the problem?"

Culture minister Mr Robertson said the Responsible Gambling Trust was carrying out an investigation into the use of fruit machines and problem gambling.

But he said any new laws would be based on research not anecdotal evidence.

"This is one of those quite tricky areas where common sense suggests there is a major problem but there is a lack of evidence to back this up," he said.

"I very much hope that the major research project that is being undertaken will give us the necessary evidence that we need and absolutely, once that is proved, the government will act."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "an addictive product, a harmful product to the consumer"

    Whatever this is it is not a product it is an invitation to you as the victim to give money to parasites. Pay day loans pensions investments you can lump them all together and label them as being a means to separate a fool from his money.
    Definition of a stockbroker.
    Someone who invests all your money until there is none left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The problem with modern gambling machines is the multiple buttons give the impression of being a skill based game... when in fact the odds are fixed by an internal computer... many people with problems get the misguided conception that they are good at playing these things... or worse still that if they play them enough they will become good at playing them, at least a one arm bandit is honest!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Gambling is an addictive vice as is smoking, drugs, alcohol, etc. These are all restricted in one form or another. For anybody to suggest that there is no evidence only needs to walk into a bookies or arcade. More frightening is seeing these machines in chippies where kids have stolen from their parents to play....I know, as I did as a child.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    How can Ladbrokes tell the average spend on a machine is £7? You don't need to sign in to play. They have just plucked this figure out of thin air to justify the machines that are now the cash cow of high street bookmakers. Gambling in this country is the biggest hidden vice and will explode very soon. No point in banning these machines though when you can play up to £500 a spin on your phone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    There is one thing that the government DO know about these machines.

    They make MONEY.

    So that’s alright then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I had a friend once who had really wronged me. Years later he apologised and wanted to renew the friendship, before long he asked for a loan of small then large amounts of money. It became too much as he never repaid and the friendship soured once more. Years later he was in the paper getting sentenced for a 75K Fraud/Theft from his employer. The reason - Gambling Addiction. He had a wife & kids

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Responsible Gambling Trust

    Maybe they could also oversee banks, though outcome will be just as futile as it is for gambling. Gambling companys arelike banks, just too powerful, their interests & profits come before SMASHING up & ruining familys & lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    It doesn't matter how bad it is for society. I'll bet more than 95% of people would happily see an end to all gambling. But if someone is making lots of money and can afford to lobby the government, the MPs will go with it.

    Money money money money money money money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    This has nothing to so with this story.

    High stakes gambling crackdown rejected.

    The government earns £40million in taxes from horse racing, £20 million from sports bets and wait for it £1.2 billion from betting shop fruit machines. No wonder they don't wont to have a crackdown. A betting shop in Edgware takes £180,000 a week on fruit machine gambling.

    Why are betting shops replacing pubs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    TV adverts encourage on line gamblng, pay day loans and log car loans. The Government should be ashamed of a lack of regulation and Equity should ban actors from appearing in them. At a time of austerity, such companies prey on the vulnerable and desperate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Having popped into a bookies to put on the odd football bet, I've see people pumping money into the roulette machines.
    I watched one guy put in £350 in 15 minutes and walk out without a penny, and another be £500 up and lose the lot. You see other putting in 20's and 50's at a time and keep chasing a big win. £1 on the lottery or a couple of quid on football isn't much, these machine are bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I suppose this decision is fair enough if there is genuinely no concrete evidence. Someone close to me ended up addicted to gambling and this led them to very destructive behaviour as it got harder and harder to cover their debts. However, banning these machines would have made no difference since gambling online is so freely available with little or restrictions anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    if people never gambled we wouldnt have won so many medals in the olympics.ie the national lottery...which is such a con trick you dont even get your stake back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    So will the Culture Minister back a study to gather the necessary evidence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This is an area that needs serious regulation.

    I really feel for anyone who has/is affected by those with gambling problems. Between the growth in High Street betting shops, on-line sites, phone apps, and television adverts from everything from Bingo to Poker, you really can't get away from it.


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