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Government to review fixed-odds betting machines

28 October 2016


High-street temptation: a Betfred store in Manchester, pictured in 2013. In June, The Guardian reported that the Gambling Commission fined the bookmaker £800,000 for taking thousands of pounds of stolen cash from a customer who earlier this year had pleaded guilty to channelling money from the business he worked for, in order to fund his gambling habit. Betfred was found to have failed to meet its social responsibility obligations

High-street temptation: a Betfred store in Manchester, pictured in 2013. In June, The Guardian reported that the Gambling Commission fined the b...

THE Government is expected to announce a review of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) amid growing concern that the high-speed, high-stake gaming machines could be behind as many as nine suicides.

The machines, dubbed “the crack-cocaine of gambling”, allow users to place bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds — making for a potential loss of up to £18,000 in an hour. The maximum winning in any bet is £500. In 2015, consumers lost a staggering £1.7 billion on the machines.

Under the law as it stands, four FOBTs are permitted in a licensed betting shop; this has led to a proliferation of bookmakers on the high street. The director of parliamentary affairs at the charity CARE, Dr Dan Boucher, said that the machines accounted for about 50 per cent of bookmakers’ profit.

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has tabled a Private Member’s Bill that would enable local authorities to limit the number of FOBTs in betting shops. No date has been given for its Second Reading.

The expected government review comes at a time when an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has been established to look into the issue, and is gathering evidence for a report that, it hopes, will lead to change.

“When the bookies were on the high street, and they were just doing horse-racing and dog-racing, they were part of the fabric of the community; now they’re the scourge of the community,” the Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the group, told the BBC.

“We need to have a complete overhaul and review of fixed-odds betting terminals, and, hopefully, come up with a solution which, if it’s not going to suit the bookies, at least will help all the associated problems with these machines, including anti-social behaviour, money laundering, and violence.”

Last week, the APPG — whose members include Dr Smith — took evidence from a Mission and Public Affairs policy adviser for the Church of England, Martin Kettle, alongside Dr Boucher, and a representative from Quaker Action. The APPG will continue taking evidence until December, before publishing a report in the New Year.

A Church House spokesman said: “Bishop Alan has repeatedly raised concerns in the House of Lords about the harm associated with fixed-odds betting machines. As well as calling for a reduction in the maximum stakes, he has tabled legislative amendments that would give local authorities greater powers to protect vulnerable people from the harm associated with these machines.”

The Scottish government is being urged to close a loophole that enables bookmakers to take over premises previously used for financial or professional services, such as banks or estate agents, and turn them into betting shops. Campaigners want a specific planning class of betting shops so that local authorities have some control over their proliferation.

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