Fixed-odds betting machines 'concerning', say ministers

Fixed odds betting terminal Bookmakers say few people play for high stakes

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Ministers have said the growth of high-stakes roulette machines on the High Street is "concerning" and they do not rule out action to restrict them.

Culture Minister Helen Grant told MPs their future was "unresolved" and bookmakers must take immediate action to increase protection for players.

People can wager £100 every 20 seconds on fixed-odds betting terminals.

Labour said they were "an example of David Cameron's Britain" and councils should have new powers to curb them.

But following a Commons debate, Labour's call for local authorities to be given new powers to restrict the growth of the machines was defeated by 314 to 232 votes.

There are more than 33,000 fixed-odds betting terminals in the UK.

'Debt and misery'

The last Labour government relaxed the gambling laws, allowing bookmakers to start installing them.

Fixed odds betting terminals

  • Fixed odds betting terminals were launched in 1999 after then chancellor Gordon Brown scrapped tax on individual bets in favour of taxing bookmakers' profits
  • High stakes casino-style gambling is banned from High Streets but fixed odds betting terminals used remote servers so that the gaming was not taking place on the premises
  • After the 2005 Gambling Act, fixed odds betting terminals were given legal backing and put under the same regulatory framework as fruit machines
  • They stopped using remote servers but stakes were limited to £100 and terminals to four per betting shop
  • Punters can place a £100 stake every 20 seconds
  • According to the Gambling Commission there are 33,284 fixed-odds betting terminals across the UK
  • The average weekly profit per fixed odds betting terminals in 2012 was £825, up from £760 in 2011, according to the Gambling Commission
  • The number of betting shops in the UK increased from 8,862 in 2009 to 9,031 in 2013. The big three operators have plans to open hundreds of new shops although many independent operators have closed

But the party has accused the gambling industry of exploiting those changes to target poorer parts of the country,

It says fixed-odds betting terminals are acting as a magnet for crime and anti-social behaviour and local authorities should be given new powers to deal with "clusters" of shops opening together.

They would also review the number of high-speed, high-stakes fixed-odds betting terminals allowed on bookmakers' premises and would take steps to make the machines less addictive by requiring pop-ups and breaks in play.

Shadow culture minister Clive Efford said the last government had always maintained the machines should be kept under review.

The "world had changed" since they were first licensed, he said, with the online gambling industry now worth more than £2bn.

"These machines are an example of Cameron's Britain - one rule for constituents and another for big business which operate the betting shops," he said.

Another Labour MP, Brian Donohue, said fixed-odds betting terminals had been "likened to cocaine" as they were "absolutely and totally addictive".

Ministers insist that local authorities can already reject applications for new gambling premises and review existing licences.

But Ms Grant acknowledged the growth of the machines was "concerning" and she expected the industry to introduce voluntary player protection measures, such as suspensions in play and automatic alerts when stakes hit a certain level, by March.

She said the government was waiting for the findings of a study into "how [the machines] are used and the real impact on players" before deciding what further action may be needed.

Ed Miliband outside a bookmakers in north London last month Ed Miliband says bookmakers are targeting disadvantaged communities

"There is no green light for these machines. Their future is unresolved pending the research we have started," she told MPs.

Labour, she added, had liberalised gambling laws and accused them of "rank hypocrisy, total cynicism and outright opportunism".

"Labour bought these machines into being and they have the audacity to bring forward a motion blaming the government for any harm caused," she said.

'Working class pursuit'

The gambling industry insists it does not target deprived areas and has introduced a code of conduct for player protection and responsible gaming.

"Betting is a pursuit enjoyed by millions of working class people throughout Britain and we seek to reach the widest audience possible by being present on High Streets," the Association of British Bookmakers said.

"We accept there are concerns about these gaming machines and are always open to a constructive dialogue with politicians about the appropriate powers for local authorities."

It added: "The claims of widespread problem gambling on machines is just not supported by evidence. The industry continues to develop its approach to harm mitigation for the small number of gamblers who do experience problems."

MPs have previously rejected calls from Labour to reduce the maximum stake from £100 to £2 and to cut the top prize from the current £500.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Good. About time too.

    These machines should be banned immediately from areas where unemployment is highest and benefits make up family income. The temptation is to gamble money that has been given to support families.

    Perhaps they should be relocated to Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea instead so that any cash they take comes from the rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I've had problems with gambling for a number of years now and without doubt these machines are by far cause the greatest amount of stress and distress. Knowing and having spoken to a number of Managers within these shops by far the greatest amount of issues with gambling, including those that self exclude, are fixed odds betting terminals related.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Whilst betting £300 per minute is horrific look at the profit per terminal at £825.00 per week. That's about £17.18 per hour based on 6 days.

    This means the return percentage must be quite high ?

    Although I am not a fan of gambling this does not appear any more excessive than betting on horses all day long.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    High risk games and running up huge debts fast?

    Ironic that Labour are trying to solve that particular problem...

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    All the numbers on a roulette wheel add up to 666 for a reason you know... yeah verily this is sodom and gomorrah

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Short memories on the Labour front bench. They changed the rules to allow these machines in bookies and now they want the coalition to clear up the mess. Again.

    Gambling's a mug's game; as my old Dad used to say "You never see a poor bookie".

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    There's an ad on tv at the moment where a guy is being followed around by a slot machine everywhere he goes - I thought it was made by gamblers anonymous or something to show how addictive it is, I found it kinda scary, but it's actually an advert for a mobile gaming site!

    That's what life is like now for a lot of people, it's so damaging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Bit of a u-turn isn't it? "Fixed odds betting terminals were launched in 1999 after then chancellor Gordon Brown scrapped tax on individual bets in favour of taxing bookmakers' profits."

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Not far enough. In the past tobacco and alcohol companies sponsored sporting events and were then barred in the enlightened age.
    They have since been replaced by betting companies who now are luring 'punters' more easily with apps and instant odds etc.
    It's easy to make money out of somebody else's misery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Betting shops and payday lenders - to my mind, they rank 3rd and 4th on the list of the scourges of rip-off Britain, just behind politicians and banking executives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Gambling is out of control period. You can't watch tv without an enticement to play on-line bingo or bet on the in-play markets. The games on Fobt's can be played on-line so a betting shop ban is not the only solution. Bookmakers, high street or online, are interested only in profits. The industry pays poorly, many needing tax credits to have a modest living, and epitomise the countries problems

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Utter hypocrisy! Bet365 have given the labour party more than £400,000 since 2004! In addition to the millions donated to Tony Blair by an American betting consortium in return for the relaxation of the betting laws. Which Blair obliged.

    Don't ANY politicians tell the whole truth???

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    It is the business of the Labour Party to tell everyone how to live their lives in detail, every minute, of every hour, of every day. Or at least Labour think it is Labour's business. Unfortunately no one else thinks it is Labour's business..

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The gambling industry is vast you only need to watch TV to see all the ads for on-line casinos, mobile casino apps etc. If the government introduced a minimum 50% tax on all gambling, a vast amount of money could be raised per annum to help pay off the National Debt?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I understand arguments against the "nanny state", but that doesn't help the fact that a lot of people in this country are really really stupid, and will waste all of their money on such things until they end up on the streets.
    That isn't good for anyone, and these machines don't contribute in any way to society. May as well ban them & hope the punters instead spend their money on food & housing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Good idea for a change. While you're at it pls also ban cash generator and any other loan sharks type businesses that are popping up on every street!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Prohibition is rarely effective but really what were labour thinking allowing the proliferation of gambling?? And that's speaking as a labour voter. My brother is a gambling addict and when I watch the telly or walk around I can understand how, if you have that kind of addiction, the constant presence of adverts/ opportunities for gambling must make it extremely difficult to resist temptation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Completely agree with this, good on Miliband. Our high streets are disfigured by these rapacious 'betting shops', leeching money from poor communities. New Labour and the Tories are responsible. Time for Labour to speak up for our communities' genuine interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Both parties are as bad as each other when it comes to taking donations and listening to lobbyists for gambling firms, walk around a less well off area and it's obvious they are being targeted but society/govt doesn't care about anyone not wealthy these days so who cares?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    There is no doubt thet Fobt's cause problems and there needs to be a review. Bookmakers use their contribution to the economy as justification and claim they support responsible gambling. The main bookmakers donate to Gamcare, I believe, but invest 4 times as much in enticements to get people hooked. Greed!!!


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