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 35.

    When Thatcherites moved our British manufacturing jobs to far East & to profit greedy Tories, then the not so Great Britain set in

    Our towns run down for lack of proper wages. Gambling & drinking replacing happy family life. Marriage collapses due to lack of money

    And now slide into poverty under current deliberate misgovernment. Cameron & cronies carrying on what blessed Margaret started

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    why is anybody surprised that THIS government would make such a decision?

    The Tories are the Political wing of the "Rich and Rip-Off classes". There to protect their interests.

    Always have been, always will be

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @17 It did not start with Thatcher. It started when Britain moved to a fiat currency and started printing cash after WWII. Making money out of nothing. Now our money is worthless and we can't buy anything. The government is suppressing the rate of inflation but in reality its almost 15%. You're taking a massive pay cut each year and your savings are being stolen.And its nothing to do with Thatcher

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Gambling is meant to be fun right? Step into any high st bookies up and down the country and see how much 'fun' people are having . You are more likely to hear the cries of XXXX you at staff

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    7. kingsroad112
    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.
    So if they were banned we'd get 1.2bn in extra tax put on petrol, NI, VAT etc instead?

    Put that way I'd rather the gamblers paid the £1.2bn than the rest of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I think "Bank Gambling" is far better.

    If you place a bet on the markets and lose then the Government kindly refunds your stake money - how good is that ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    These machines are computer controlled and the algorithm inside is designed to retain a certain amount of money and pay out a certain amount of money.

    There's no element of chance or randomness about them, the only winner is the operator of the machine.

    Only random machines should be allowed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I used to know a slot machine addict, he was sadly obsessed that it was a game of skill matter despite never walking away ahead.

    High stakes machines are a menace, but TV advertising for online gambling is much worse with all the sick tactics used by Tobacco in the past running 24/7.

    Gambling addiction is just as bad as Tobacco & should be subject to the same levels of advertising restrictions!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    A friend of mine works in a betting shop and says a lot of the time the terminals get kicked, punched etc etc breaking the screen but they don't report it to the police as the loss they would incur if these machines were removed is immense.

    In what other circumstances are crimes purposely not reported ?

    This shows how much they really make from these terminals

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    little evidence of harm as it was not looked for big evidence of lots of tax coming typical of this govt as long as they get the money they do not care about the misery they can cause

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Remember Basil Fawlty when asked about gambling? "No, that's another avenue of pleasure that's been closed to me" (Sic)
    Gather round all you Sybils, someone might enjoy themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    19. Mustafa Yorumcu

    You don't need to apologise for a bank rant. Its a good point you make.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @17....not bad. Up to post 17 before Thatcher or a Tory gets the blame.
    Are you suggesting that successive governments have deliberately sought power in order to run Britain down? Your posts are at least good for a laugh......

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I would imagine that even removing the machines completely would still mean that the individual is going to gamble it away in some fashion.
    I guess most people decide how much they're prepared to lose and an addicted gambler just empties their pockets.
    What needs looking at is the inherent thrill-seeking which I'd reckon is at the hub of excessive gambling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Gambling is a growth industry in the UK, it definitely needs more control. I think the authorities like it because it is a good source of tax revenue. I know a person who got himself into £60000 of credit card gambling debts, it has completely ruined his life. Slot machines in betting shops should be removed or restricted to a small maximum bet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Britain has a "something for nothing" culture which has developed largely because of reality TV. You see it all the time when someone who has didn't win X-Factor goes on Big Brother and other shows but when you think about it what has this person actually done? Nothing. Gambling machines offer "something for nothing" so it comes as no surprise that they're destroying lives

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    At least these people gamble with their own money.
    I would urge our government to do something about those that gamble with our money.

    Yes. This is another rant on banks. Sorry about it. But the biggest medium/long term problem our country faces is lack of appropriate banking regulations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I find it a horrible site to see people with limited income and education being cheated and exploited by their peers through gambling. Very sad reflection on humanity. However, that's life I'm afraid. Regulation is already tight - and rightly so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    These machines are used by people with a problem?

    The problem is having gambling shops on Hight Street in first place. You can tell when a town is sliding downhill by numbers of gambling shops and numbers of cheap booze signs

    Not so Great Britain & it is everywhere. Poverty all across the country & due to deliberate misgovernment running down Britain. Started with Thatcher & still continues

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    6. JohnKidderminster
    Equity should ban actors from appearing in them. At a time of austerity, such companies prey on the vulnerable and desperate.
    I trust Carol Voderman and David Dickenson implicitly - don't you ?


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