Electronic gambling: £1.5bn staked in Welsh bookies and casinos

Electronic betting machines have been called the "crack cocaine" of the industry

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Gamblers in Wales stake more than £1.5bn on electronic betting machines found in bookmakers and casinos last year, figures suggest.

It is the equivalent of £650 a year for every adult in Wales who gambled on fixed odds casino games machines.

Fairer Gambling, which lobbies for more regulation, described the machines as the "crack cocaine" of the industry and called for better regulation.

But the Association of British Bookmakers denied there was a problem.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are found in most high street bookmakers and allow bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds.

They include games such as roulette and bingo.

In Wales, bookmakers made more than £50m from the machines last year - up 5.6% on 2011.

FOBTs GAMBLING STATS

£1000 gambled per head:

  • Cardiff Central
  • Rhondda
  • Wrexham

£200 gambled per head:

  • Ceredigion
  • Gower

SOURCE: FAIRER GAMBLING/GAMBLING COMMISSION

However estimates show that gamblers in England stake more on the machines, with the figures showing the equivalent of £863 was gambled per adult on the machines - up 10% on the previous year.

The figures were compiled by Fairer Gambling used statistics from the Gambling Commission.

Adrian Parkinson, a campaigner with Fairer Gambling, was a manager at a bookmakers when the terminals were rolled out between 1999 and 2001.

"I'm not here to say the machines should be taken off the high street and we're not anti-gambling," he said.

"Our objective is to see restrictions put in place on the casino content on these machines. All the problems emanate from the casino content.

"When the machines were first rolled out staff at the bookmakers started telling us there was a problem.

"The words that were being used were 'addiction' and one of the managers described them as the 'crack cocaine of the gambling industry'.

Betting expert Mark Davies

"Ultimately, the numbers suggest electronic gambling machines aren't any more dangerous (than other forms of gambling).

"I think the issue is you can bet a larger stake than you can for any other machines out there.

"These are fruit machines for the 21st Century.

"Whereas a fruit machine previously you would put in a pound coin, now you can bet £100.

"The trouble is the debate takes place in a febrile atmosphere, not least because the numbers that are thrown about don't relate to what punters lose but relates to what goes into the machines.

"Those two numbers are very, very different."

"Bookmakers are extracting money, we believe, from some of the poorest areas of the UK."

But the Association of British Bookmakers said there was no evidence to back up the Fairer Gambling campaign's claims that the machines are causing a problem.

Dirk Vennix, from the association, said the vast majority of gamblers in the UK bet "safely and responsibly" and suggested that less 1% of people who had a problem.

"It is wrong to suggest that these machines are the highest contributor to problem gambling," he said.

"Gambling Commission research shows that only 8% of problem gamblers play on machines in betting shops.

"There is no empirical evidence linking problem gambling to betting machines. One has to remember the betting industry is the most heavily regulated retail sector on the high street.

"Betting shops in Wales support 2,000 jobs and contribute £100m to the Welsh economy, and I think that's often forgotten."

Ingrid Wallace from the Addiction Recovery Agency in Cardiff was concerned at the number of people they had to counsel for gambling addiction.

"People lose track of what they are betting on these machines," she said.

"It is possible to put relatively high amounts into the FOBTs and you can lose that at a touch of a button, whereas when people are placing a normal bet or when people play the national lottery there is a bit more distance."

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