Fixed odds betting terminals 'can wreck peoples’ lives'
The Conservative MP for Southend West writes about the dangers of addiction to fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops. He hopes more can be done to ensure young and vulnerable people are discouraged from this harmful addiction.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals have become a fixture in betting shops in every high street in the country. They are very high speed roulette machines where £100 can be wagered every 20 seconds and there are now over 35,000 of them in use in Britain. As bookmakers are only able to have four FOBTs per shop they are opening multiple sites on our high streets and there are numerous examples in Southend West.
There are higher densities of betting shops in more deprived areas as it is the most vulnerable, who can least afford to gamble, who are being targeted by bookmakers. There are twice as many betting shops in the poorest 55 boroughs of the UK compared with the most affluent. In my own constituency alone the sum of £2.1 million was lost on these machines last year.
FOBTs are now the most profitable form of gambling in betting shops and are causing many social and economic problems in our less well-off communities. Particularly at risk are the young and vulnerable who are attracted by the opportunity to gamble high stakes in an environment where there is little or no supervision.
Increasingly, FOTB addiction is causing a rise in crime and anti-social behaviour as players try to obtain enough money to continue their gambling. Gamblers are turning to payday loans, increasing the likelihood that they will turn to crime in order to pay their debts. Betting shops now account for 97% of all police call outs to gambling venues as users smash machines when they lose control.
Incidents of money launderers using FOBTs to ‘clean’ their money are also on the rise. Recent legislation has attempted to reduce the damage these machines are causing by limiting the maximum stake to £50 unless the gambler opens an account but users can still play at the £40-£50 level without any supervision.
I feel certain that a reduction in the maximum stake that can be wagered on these machines would see a positive change in economic and social circumstances and have a beneficial effect on our high streets. A reduction in the number of bookmakers would create more high street jobs as more labour intensive and productive shops and businesses returned to add much needed variety to our communities.
An All Party Parliamentary Group is in the process of being formed, of which I will be a member. This reflects the growing concern about this issue from politicians across the political spectrum. A Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes is due to take place shortly and I am sure that FOBTs will come under a great deal of scrutiny and hopefully something can be done to ensure that young people and those most vulnerable are discouraged from this harmful addiction.
If you are on a low income, the dream of a big win transforming your life is very attractive, but if relentlessly pursued, without really being able to afford the bets, it can wreck peoples’ lives.