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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  • Comment number 175.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    I believe Kipling had it wrong, it should have gone

    "If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;" ...

    ...You have a problem... seek help

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    People have to start to learn to take responsibility for their own actions. Why don't we ban alcohol too? After all, that actually kills people directly - something that a gambling terminal is not capable of.

    The reason we don't ban alcohol is that there are a vast majority who use it in moderation and enjoy it - just as there are with gambling terminals. Why punish these people??

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Cheers Sunderlands, keep it up as your doing well.

    and @170, Andrew there is a huge connection but tell a kid with a giant doghnut it's bad for his health!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    It needs addressing if the government needs proof well here it is! in black/white & thats just the people who take the step 2 admit they have a problem. I feel sorry for the abuse on the families, not all physical but phsychological 2 not to mention the lack of money that proberly comes from food or household bill money! Its shocking that a blind eye is turned 2 this, with the misery it can cause

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    I suppose that Dave doesnt see any connection between the hype on gambling and his broken Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    167.tartanhatter. Don't give up on yourself. Good luck again (:

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    I'm a gambler. Not addicted but regular. To be honest, the only way you are going to make alot of money/get rich in this country these days is to win it. And your not going to win it if you're not in it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Phil, you just don't get it. I blame myself every single day. I have given myself up as a lost cause but there are young people out there I see who will end up like me and it's not very nice at all. If I were a crack addict, I would also frown at adverts for crack all day every day!

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    163.Tartenhatter Good luck to you, Im 3 months bet free.

    164. Phil Kinzett-Evans. I blame myself everyday, I want no help from anyone, it was all my own fault, Im not from a broken home etc, i just got lost in world I'd not wish on anyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    160. Katz_in_Bedford ..
    Apologies I misread then I thought you owned a place. good luck with what ever you plan to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Why can't addcits accept responsibility for their own actions?

    It always someone else's fault that someone became addicted to something when the reality is simple - a personality flaw of the user.

    These people need to get a grip of themselves. If you can't afford it - don't gamble with it !

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Good luck Martin.
    So many of us need help and by shoving adverts in our faces all day every day does not help. Because of the tens of thousands I have lost, when I don't use a site for a while they will give me completley free bets to get me losing again. Self control? If only it were that easy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    159. Rebecca Riot
    So that’s the sort of person you are..
    As you have stated before your’e educated to a high standard with a good degree and now
    are fleeing to enjoy a highly paid job elsewhere !
    This is so typical of some middle class posh kids (those you deride but are one) the guilt trip of wealth
    So they swing so far to the left it is amazing that don’t fallover.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    159. Rebecca Riot
    152 BadlyPackedKebab

    I have not murdered any innocent people as you suggest?

    And yes I have gone on a march. The student march in London was most effective to show this misgovernment waht's what.
    Interesting use of the word 'effective'. In this case meaning 'totally failing to change the govt policy whatsoever'

    PS Misgovernment much better than unelected

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Thwarting ambition is a good achievment? What a warped mind you must have.
    And no, I don't think I should be given a hoiuse with rent paid. But rents wouldn't be so high if the sell-off of council housing hadn't been accompanied by removal of rent controls and massive expansion of the buy to let market.

    It's unlikely I'll ever own the property so will end up renting in any case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    152 BadlyPackedKebab

    I have not murdered any innocent people as you suggest?

    And yes I have gone on a march. The student march in London was most effective to show this misgovernment waht's what. And camping outside Stock Exchange shook up authorities & clergy. Gave them food for thought. Us scruffy lot spoiling their tourist attraction

    Christians my foot??

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    I remember starting my first job (over 30 years ago)and going to the sports and social on Thursday eve (pay day) and seeing some bloke open his pay packet and put all of it into a fruit machine over a period of 2 hours. Never gambled myself after that (not even sweepstakes at work, etc.) It's so addictive and the big win is always around the corner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    137.Martin. Good luck mate, I'm 3 months without going on these evil machine (FOBT) the urge is still there but i'm alot better off than i was when i was on them. All the best!

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    153. Rebecca Riot ..
    In short you are advocating nothing but anarchy , I guess the clue is in the name.


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