Scotland politics

Call for high street betting machine ban

Fixed odds betting terminal Image copyright PA
Image caption The committee heard that the betting terminals were sometimes described as the "crack cocaine" of gambling

Holyrood should be given the power to ban fixed odds betting terminals from high street bookmaker shops, a committee of MSPs has concluded.

The MSPs have been looking into the use of the machines, which allow players to bet on the outcome of games and events with fixed odds returns.

The games can include roulette, bingo, simulated horse and greyhound racing and a range of slot machine games.

The committee heard evidence that the machines were highly addictive.

And it was told that players could sometimes lose hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds while playing the fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

The Scotland Bill which is currently going through Westminster would give the Scottish Parliament the ability to limit the number of machines allowed in new bookmaker shops.

But Holyrood's local government and regeneration committee concluded that this did not go far enough given the high number of terminals already available.

Committee convenor Kevin Stewart, an SNP MSP, said he believed the maximum stake of £100 per game and the ability to play three games per minute meant FOBTs were a form of "hard gambling" and should therefore be banned from the high street.


Case study: David, recovering gambling addict

Fixed-odds betting terminals

£1.6bn

profit made by bookmakers from the machines in a year*

  • £100 maximum stake per bet

  • £2 what campaigners believe the maximum stake should be

  • £500 maximum win per bet

  • 34,874 number of FOBTs in betting shops in the UK*

PA

These machines are highly addictive, especially for someone like myself who was a problem gambler.

You put the money in, there is a 15-second spin and your money is gone and you just keep chasing and chasing and chasing.

Within the space of an hour you can do thousands of pounds.

Before these machines came into the bookmakers I was always a heavy compulsive gambler - I gambled on absolutely anything.

When they came in I thought I would give it a try. I maybe won the first couple of times, then after that I would see myself going into the bookmakers every single day maybe to back a horse or a football coupon but these machines were just so, so attractive and before I knew it I had blown all of my money.

I was never in trouble or anything and I was married previously. I lost the marriage, ended up losing my flat and then got involved in drugs to quite a high extent.

Basically, I was making quite a lot of money off that and I was just gambling daily. I was sitting in the bookmakers from eight o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock at night every day.

I had never been in any trouble at all with the law but the gambling had me that much that I would do absolutely anything for a bet, and I ended up in prison.


Mr Stewart said: "The casino industry told us these machines are a form of hard gambling and unsuitable for the unsupervised environment of a bookmaker's shop.

"We were given evidence about the clustering of bookmakers in some communities - for example, one parade of shops in Glasgow with three bookmakers each offering four FOBT machines - and local authorities have told us they feel powerless to do anything to restrict the number of bookmakers."

He said planning rules should be changed to give local authorities more control and the ability to address the clustering of machines.

And he said the Scotland Bill would not give the Scottish Parliament any "real and effective powers" to tackle FOBTs.

'No greater risk'

In its submission to the committee, the Association of British Bookmakers argued that gaming machines "pose no greater risk than any other gambling product".

It said: "Since the introduction of gaming machines into shops over 10 years ago levels of problem gambling have remained relatively stable and declined year on year."

It also argued that reducing the number of fixed odds betting terminals would "disproportionately impact the viability of the (bookmaker) sector which has a strong history in Scotland and risks customer displacement to non-regulated environments".

On Sunday, the BBC reported that a bid to cut the maximum bet on some high street gambling machines in England had been resubmitted.

Newham Council said the machines had "sucked the life blood out of local communities" and urged ministers to reduce the highest stake from £100 to £2.

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