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 55.

    @ 35....not a clue.
    Those profits aren't for greedy Tories, unless you count our pension pots as greedy Tories....
    Lack of proper wages.....yet gambling and drinking on the increase?
    Stop believing all you read on these posts , and Socialist Worker and join the real world

  • Comment number 54.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Mr Vennix's implication that problem and compulsive gamblers are 'stupid' beggars belief, and contradicts all scientific research into the phenomenon of gambling addiction. There are a series of complex factors which can contribute to gambling addiction, and intelligence, or lack of intelligence, is certainly not one of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    Jaguar, British Telecom, the remainder of Cable & Wireless and British Aerospace, Britoil and British Gas. British Steel, British Petroleum, Rolls Royce, British Airways, water and electricity. British Coal, as well as electricity generating companies Powergen and National Power, and British Rail.

    Selling the above initially stabilised the 80's economy, not Thatcher.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Nothing to say on this that has already been said by many, repeatedly.

    Gambling is basically funding financial Al Queda, social terrorists who dont give a stuff about anything & damage they cause, except themselves & lining their pockets.

    Just say no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    37. Urban_Monk
    I enjoy gambling and occassionally play slot machines and do not feel this is a problem. The public are losing thousands on the stock markets & in houses (negative equity).
    Negative equity is only the same if you only bought the house to make money. I bought mine to live in. Its value relative to other properties only matters one iota when & if I choose to sell & move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Getting a quick fix, a buzz, is a capitalist addiction. The live for today, get a wad of money & don't give a damn about the consequence of what you do. What does it matter if your dead tomorrow, you had a great time today, so enjoy it ??

    It is like boom & bust, riches to poverty, Reckless folk at all levels in society think this is way to carry on. The result is starving children, war & death

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Those who think that gambling is Money For Nothing are in dire straits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Gambling is most certainly addictive. Money is the root of all tension, friction within families.There are casinos for big-time gamblers.The gamblers know the risks.Having gambling machines to lure unsuspecting citizens should be discouraged. The government does not need to entice the average citizen into gambling and out of frugal ways! The Chancellor should find other means of raising revenues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    @35 You have a real Thatcher problem, don't you?

    She actually got Britain back on its feet after a financial collapse. And that's more than the current clowns from any party will do.

    She stabilised the graph below and stopped us going broke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    In everything in life there are excesses. The gamblers who gamble all they have are to blame and the govt or bookies have no questions to answer. Alcohol & cigs are stacked in our shops and we have addicts where is the call to ban these items. Computer games are in shops, they have addicts, where is the call to ban them? The notion that failings of a few should affect us all is wrong & should stop

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Can these gambling machines be made to accept these new "Benefit Credit Cards" that people are banging on about ? What a time saver !

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I think it's an absolute disgrace that the government allows advertising for gambling sites on prime time TV, and worse still, many channels, even big name ones, actually function as gambling channels late at night. it sickens me....

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Gambling is a terrible thing for those not having the will to control it.
    Funny I seem to remember Labour going all out to build Super Casinos despite people not wanting it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    35.Rebecca Riot
    So right. This lot do not care about people. They are cold blooded, concerned only with the great God Money and the deity Profit to fund rich lifestyles. Gambling promises easy money. Even more worrying is the rise of on-line bingo aimed at the bored housewife - pretty pink colours etc. They also have virtual gambling machines and are addictive. Free membership and money trap

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I've never seen a poor bookie but I have seen plenty of broke mug punters.

    The house always wins because the odds are in it's favour and gamblers always come back and lose their winnings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    the goverment should keep out of this if you play these machines you deserve to lose your money Ive not got any sympathey for the pathetic fools who feed these machines

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Gambling is a social issue, probably a medical issue, but not (Rebecca) a political issue.

    I don't understand why people become addicted to anything, but they clearly do.

    Listening to a bookie on the radio this morning I came to the conclusion that the only difference between a tobacconist, publican, drug dealer or bookie, is the product they sell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I enjoy gambling and occassionally play slot machines and do not feel this is a problem. The public are losing thousands on the stock markets & in houses (negative equity). All these investments/bets are a form of gambling with risk; so do not view betting in a bookies as not any different..

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    '.....typical of this govt as long as they get the money they do not care about the misery they can cause'

    Do you think all these machines were all installed in bookies in May 2010? The surge of getting them put in was during the last Labour govt but whenever it was and who was in is irrelevant. People have had gambling addictions since before these came along same as drink, drugs etc


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