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Scottish Labour backs calls to reduce the stake on FOBTs to £2 a spin

Scottish Labour backs calls to reduce the stake on FOBTs to £2 a spin

Campaign for Fairer Gambling | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

3 min read Partner content

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is the latest in a long list of high profile politicians to join the Campaign for Fairer Gambling’s call to reduce the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to £2 a spin.

Announcing his position in the Scottish Sunday Mail he said: “I find it completely unacceptable that people can lose an entire week’s wages in a few minutes with these machines. I want to see a change in the maximum stake. People betting a couple of pounds a time would be a lot more sensible, rather than blowing all they have in a gambling spree lasting a few minutes.”

Mr. Murphy joins 93 Councils across England and Wales which have called on the government to reduce the stake to £2 under the Sustainable Communities Act. He also joins the Liberal Democrats, who have broken ranks with the Conservatives by calling for a £2 cap. The executive in Northern Ireland is also currently deliberating its policy on FOBTs. It is even possible that Northern Ireland could take its cue from the Republic of Ireland, which has banned FOBTs completely.

Mr. Murphy’s move will put even more pressure on the SNP, which last week rejected calls to ensure betting shops required full planning consent to open a new premises. Both Labour and the SNP have already committed to using new powers proposed under the Smith Commission to implement a ban on any more FOBTs in Scotland. But this does not deal with the problem that already exists.

The extent of the problem cannot be understated. Figures revealed last year by the Campaign estimated that in the nine most deprived council areas, £2bn was gambledon FOBTs in 471 betting shops, leading to losses of £69m. In the eleven most affluent council areas equivalent by population, £1.1bn was gambled on FOBTs in 272 betting shops, leading to losses of around £40m.

In Glasgow, where 19% of adults are not working due to ill health or disability, around 20,000 gamblers staked £846m last year, losing £30m. Glasgow has 205 betting shops and 759 FOBTs – more than any other council area in the UK.  Around the time the figures were released, Rutherglen and Hamilton West Labour MP Tom Greatrex said: “The figures back up the view that people in poorer areas are being targeted. Councils should have the ability to determine whether there are too many machines in a particular area.”

Mr. Greatrex’s comment reflected Labour policy at the time, which was to give councils the power to retrospectively ban FOBTs. However, now that Scottish Labour has supported the call to reduce the stake to £2 a spin, it is more likely that Labour policy will change. Labour’s position had been to wait for the Responsible Gambling Trust’s (RGT) research before making a decision on the maximum stake. On publication of the RGT research, Clive Efford – Labour’s gambling spokesperson – said: “It is disappointing that this research cannot tell us how levels of stakes and prizes impact on problem gamblers. This was promised by the Prime Minister and it is hugely embarrassing for him that it does not provide the information.”

The RGT promised to deliver “the whole truth” about “whether betting machines cause problem gambling”. They instead embarked on a study that attempted to discern who problem gamblers were from machine data.

But it is the product’s features themselves – specifically the high speed casino content facilitated by the £100 a spin staking capacity – in an easily accessible location, that is contributing to problematic gambling. Jim Murphy is therefore right to call for the stakes to be cut to £2 a spin, and the Campaign looks forward to Ed Miliband toughening Labour’s position in the coming weeks.

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