A Parliamentary report into the lure of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – the so-called “crack cocaine of gambling” has backed calls for a £2 maximum stake on the machines.
But it has immediately run into trouble with bookmakers’ trade body who has alleged that MPs were swayed in their conclusions by funding for the report from rival sectors.
Association of British Bookmakers chief executive Malcolm George has called for another investigation – into the propriety of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) that has called for a clampdown on FOBTs.
Currently punters can place bets worth £100 every 20 seconds on the touch-screen machines which creates quick debt for troubled gamblers. Already links have been made between FOBTs and anti-social behaviour and debt. Suicides have been linked to the addictive and rapacious nature of the machines .
The APPG which issued the report said there was a case for a £2 maximum stake and criticised bookmakers by failing to contribute to their inquiry.
Chair Carolyn Harris MP said: “There is now a clear case for the Government to substantially reduce the maximum stake which can be played on FOBTs.
“The time for prevaricating is over. These machines are easily accessed in the most deprived areas, sucking money out of the pockets of families. I support a responsible gambling industry, but there is nothing responsible about how FOBTs are currently being operated. I urge the Government to take action now.”
The problem is especially acute in poorer areas and Newham has become renowned as a particular troublespot. Because there is a maximum of four of the lucrative machines allowed per betting shop, the big gambling brands are filling the high street with outlets.
Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales has been leading attempts to give local planning authorities more power to put a brake on the proliferation of bookmakers.
Sir Robin said : “The Government must finally bring FOBT stakes in line with other high street gambling machines.
“The gambling industry has consistently ignored our pleas to stop blighting our high streets with the clustering of betting shops, which bring anti-social behaviour and crime to the heart of our communities.
“If the Government is to prove it is on the side of both consumers and communities, it must act quickly to reduce the maximum stake to £2 and remove high stake, hard gambling from the high street.”
Ms Harris visited Newham to see for herself the grip of the bookmakers.
In High Street North, East Ham, there are currently 12 betting shops operating – while across the borough there are 84 bookies, six for every square mile of the borough.
There are more than twice as many betting shops in the poorest 55 boroughs compared with the most affluent 115, which are equivalent by population. In Newham there has been a 47% increase in the number of betting shop licences in the borough since the introduction of the 2005 Gambling Act.
But bookmakers – who declined to give evidence to the inquiry – have reacted angrily to the report suggesting it was financed by those with vested interest in seeing the sector suffer – including those involved in casinos and pub industries.
Mr George called for an investigation in his allegations of skulduggery, suggesting that it was hiding evidence and operated in secret.
“The report is the view of a tiny group of anti-betting shop MPs. Betting shops are already closing at the rate of more than 100 a year and if the findings of this rigged report are implemented, it could spell the beginning of the end for the High Street bookmaker.”
He pointed out that bookmakers employed 43,000 people and created £1billion in taxes.