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 154.

    149 Sally...

    Camelots licence is another issue altogether. How can the licence repeatedly be awarded to a commercial for profit organisation when non-profit organisations have applied to run it (& failed)?

    Also how can a 3rd 10 year licence be awarded in 2009 with and option to extend for a further 5 years when profits go to Canada?

    I think how these licences are awarded should be looked at.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Of all the things wrong in this country today, Labour is talking about betting odds. Says it all really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    123BillyB and Sally

    I think Sally is right on this one. The licence was granted for a set period of years and can be issued to another operator when is due for renewal. That looks like ownership.

    I don't know if the bandwidth licences are time-limited. If so the goverment owns the badwith but not the company that is leasing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Also they need to ban all Bingo gambling sites being advertised, and operating on TV.

    They appeal to housewives who want to make a fast "buck" and of course you never will win.

    Also there are so called "Instant Wins" on the National Lottery site - just there to tempt people and of course, no one ever wins anything of worth and the odds are that all you win back is your stake - hardly a win.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    I recall that not long ago Labour wanted to fill the country with Vegas-style Super-Casinos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    licence 2 operate DOES NOT mean that they own it.
    That is "NOT" what I asked, but we'll move on. I agree with your following points.

    Do you think if Labour was sincere about saving vulnerable people from exploitative odds, they'd revoke Camelot's licence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Once upon a time British pirates used to steal from other nations, it's not so easy to do that now so now they steal from their own vulnerable people.
    The government kept it pretty quiet that they sold off The Tote to BetFred in 2011.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    145 Sally.
    The power to grant licence is the power to control, as a licence (permission) may be refused, is it not?
    We are going bit off topic here but a licence 2 operate DOES NOT mean that they own it.

    Government grants licences to telecoms companies for bandwidth but it does not mean that they own Vodafone etc.

    However I do agree that licencing of gambling operations needs 2b reviewed :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Stevie Not to mention the behaviour thatat occurs when accesss alocholnvolved. I know someone who got hit the first tim she went to a nightclub two years ago aged 19 becasue two men were fighting on the dance floor no do
    to a degree this was alcohol fuelled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    The power to grant licence is the power to control, as a licence (permission) may be refused, is it not?

    Would you have been appy if I wrote:
    "But, it's pretty hypocritical of the government; as it simultaneously 'licences' a gambling operation which targets vulnerable people, and whose odds are even less than a gaming machine's; The National Lottery"

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Nanny State gone mad!

    More reasons why we should get rid of Ed Miliband and replace the most un-trusted leader we have ever had in the Labour Party.

    Give us his brother or someone with a personality rather than this over grown school boy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    A 59% betting tax on takings for these machines would seem fair

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    138(continued) Mentioned it to a man I worked with - as he was going on a trip where he could play electronic slots he gave the theory a try. He always allocated a small amount of money and short amount of time - quit when either ran out - in playing slow when time ran out he had more money then when he started with but did agree it was hard not to speed up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    132 Sally...

    Do you know the difference between renting something and owning something?


    Yes I do and granting a license to operate is neither.

    Yes UK gov may benefit from lotto funds but they do not own it, they merely grant a license for it to operate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    113 Stevie if for expamle for whatever reason onw dosen't drink/ hasn't got drunk or hasn't taken any illegal drug or legal high then one is seen as haveing not lived.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    132.Sally (correction)
    Sorry, that was confusing. I'll try again :)
    I can own a shop, & grant a licence to operate a business in it for 5 years. The business doesn't own the shop, I own the premises it operates in. It has a contractual licence to trade in my shop.

    The UK State owns a scam, rents it out to Camelot for a fee, a fee derived from targeting vulnerable people with impossible odds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Sounds like US electronic slots and other games that can cause a player to lose a large amount of money without breaking a sweat. Discovered if you played windows solitaire Klondike version really slow you could win in some cases 2 games it a row - but the faster you play the faster you lose has to do with whatever pointer the shuffle uses to reorder the deck. (continued in 5 minutes)

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    As an unemployed 18 year old in the 70s I foolishly walked into an amusement arcade after cashing my fortnightly Giro. Two hours later I left without a penny to my name but with a valuable lesson learned about gambling with Monet needed for essentials.

    Unfortunately some never learn this lesson and fixed odds machines rely on that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    I think they should concern themselves more with the group of people who are holding these poor gamblers at knife and gunpoint and physically pressing them into these shops and then forcing the money out of their pockets and into these machines...

    Yes it can be an addiction but at some point you have to decide what's important, your personal thrills, or your house, kids, wife/hubby and cat/dog.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    I bet this will be a waste of taxpayers money, I think it will be in the publics interest to scrap councillors rather than gambling establishments.....


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