‘It is like the crack cocaine of gambling’

Fixed odd gambling machines have caused untold misery to many across St Helens, a new report claims.
Fixed odd gambling machines have caused untold misery to many across St Helens, a new report claims.

GAMBLERS in St Helens are spending millions of pounds in betting shops on ‘fixed odds gaming machines’

A campaign to rid betting shops of these gaming machines has led to figures being released which show that £143m was spent on just 138 machines spread across 38 shops in the town.

The crack cocaine of gambling – that is the name given to the betting terminals which have brought debt misery for hundreds, if not thousands of people in the town.

Former bookie and campaigner Adrian Parkinson has revealed that the machines – known as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – are taking billions of pounds from the areas of Britain with highest rates of unemployment, including right here in the St Helens.

Mr Parkinson, who worked for the Tote and is spokesman for the Fairer Gambling organisation, was involved in launching fixed-odds betting terminals from 1999 until 2008, and authored the study for Fairer Gambling.

He said: “Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are touch-screen roulette and casino gaming machines in betting shops, on which it is possible to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds.

“The high stakes and speed of play have led to the machines being called ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’, and the Gambling Act 2005 limits each betting shop to four FOBTs – so bookies leapfrog regulations by opening up as many shops as possible, which is why we get clustering, especially in poorer areas as our research has shown.

“In 2007, a Scoping Study into the Gambling Act recommended FOBTs be “closely monitored” because of international research that suggested they had features that could create more problem gamblers.

“However, no such monitoring has taken place, and the government is due to respond to a Select Committee report next week calling for the cap of four FOBTs per shop to be lifted as an anti-clustering measure.

“We believe the only way to stop machine-driven proliferation of betting shops is to make the machines less profitable.

“So we recommend reducing to maximum stake from £100 down to £2, increasing the time between plays, and removing table game content – all of these recommendations would bring B2 machines in line with other Category B machines.”

However, the claims have been vigorously denied by bookmakers.

In a statement, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) said: “The idea that bookmakers target vulnerable communities is both false and offensive. Like any other retailer, we locate our shops where footfall is high and rents are affordable. These factors vary, which explains there can be different numbers of shops in different parts of the country.

“At a time of economic uncertainty and record retail vacancies, we are proud to play our part in supporting jobs right across the UK.”