Government should take action to reduce the maximum stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Machines (FOBTs) to lower the risk of harm caused by playing on the gaming machines, on which players can lose £300 a minute, councils are urging.
The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for a government review into gaming machine stakes to be launched immediately, and for new powers for councils to address the saturation of betting shops across their communities.
It comes as a parliamentary debate on the machines will be held today and a cross-party group has been launched to scrutinise the problems being caused by FOBTs.
There are already more than 34,000 FOBT machines in the UK where players can stake £100 in a single ‘spin’ lasting 20 seconds – and can lose up to £18,000 an hour. But councils have no powers to restrict their proliferation on high streets and reduce the risk of harm they pose to people vulnerable to problem gambling.
Figures show nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of problem gamblers in the UK have reported debts of between £20,000 and £100,000, with counselling sessions increasing by 29 per cent between 2013/14 and 2014/15.
The LGA, which represents English councils, is calling for:
- the current £100 maximum FOBT stake to be brought in line with maximum stakes for other gaming machines allowed elsewhere on high streets (£2) and in casinos (£5)
- cumulative impact tests to be introduced to enable councils to reject applications for new betting shops where there are already existing clusters of shops
- licensing laws to be updated to allow councils to take health issues associated with problem gambling and anti-social behaviour concerns into account when considering applications.
The triennial review of gaming machine stakes is now due – the last was held in January 2013 – and political pressure to tackle the issue is growing.
A new poll showed more than two-thirds of MPs (72 per cent) want tougher regulations of FOBTs. Nearly 100 councils have also backed a Sustainable Communities Act proposal submitted by Newham Council to government to reduce maximum stakes from £100 to £2. The Government rejected the proposal but is re-considering it after an appeal was lodged.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
“Councils up and down the country are worried about the number of high stakes FOBTs and betting shops on our high streets, and are frustrated by the lack of powers they have to curb them.
“The higher stakes permitted on FOBTs is significantly out of line with other high street gambling machines and the harm and anti-social behaviour they can cause has become an issue of growing national concern.
“Someone playing on a machine can lose £100 in a matter of seconds in a single play on an FOBT. This is money many people can’t afford to lose and needs to be looked at again.
“A triennial review of machine stakes is overdue, and with two-thirds of MPs calling for tougher regulation of FOBTs, we urge the Government to honour its previous commitment and launch a review of stakes at the earliest opportunity.
“Bringing stakes in line with other gaming machines in betting shops and elsewhere on high streets and casinos, would help to protect those at risk from problem gambling, and would be an important a step in the right direction.
“Councils are not anti-bookies but a new cumulative impact test would give them the power to veto new shops – and FOBTs – in areas already saturated by betting shops.”
Coventry (video of incident included in link)
A man who smashed up a FOBT with a metal stool and caused £2,300-worth of damage was sentenced at court in February 2016. The 35-year-old picked up a large stool and smashing it against the gaming machine three times, before striking it against a glass window by the staff counter. He also admitted damaged the front door of the store and was handed a community order – www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/irate-customer-who-smashed-up-10906595
Newham in east London, has 84 licenced betting shops. One street in East Ham has 12, including four of the same chain and two of another. Between 2007 and 2013 Newham saw a 29 per cent increase in the number of betting shops in the borough, and according to Newham police data (2012/2014) officers are called to an incident of crime or anti-social behaviour related to a betting shop every day.
Between January 2010 and December 2012, there was a 13 per cent increase in betting shops in London. There are more than twice as many betting shops in the poorest 55 wards compared with the most affluent 115, which are equivalent by population.
- A ComRes survey found 72 per cent of MPs want tougher regulations of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. 81 per cent of MPs believe FOBTs have a negative effect on vulnerable groups, 66 per cent of MPs say the machines have a negative effect on local communities and 62 per cent of MPs believe they have a negative effect on UK high streets – www.comres.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Campaign-for-Fairer-Gambling_MPs-2016.pdf
- Research by the Responsible Gambling Trust in 2015 said that “areas close to betting shops tend towards higher levels of crime events, resident deprivation, unemployment, and ethnic diversity” – www.responsiblegamblingtrust.org.uk/user_uploads/0159%20-%202015%2002%2020%20-%20with%20header.pdf
- There are around 34,000 FOBTs in Britain’s betting shops – www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/248932/Campaign_for_Fairer_Gambling.pdf
- About 700,000 adults in England and Scotland are either moderate risk or problem gamblers, according to the Health Survey for England 2012 and Scottish Health Survey 2012 – www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/Press/News-archive/2014/FurtheranalysisofHealthSurveys.aspx
- Unique visitors to gambling support website http://www.gamcare.org.uk more than doubled between 2013/14 and 2014/15, from 513,988 to 1,219,931. Calls to Gamcare’s support service increased by 33 per cent between the same period, from 30,648 to 40,946 – www.gamcare.org.uk/sites/default/files/file_attach/GamCare%20Annual%20Statistics%202014-15%20FINAL.pdf
- More than a quarter (26 per cent) of callers to Gamcare’s support service in 2014/15 said they used FOBTs or roulette machines – www.gamcare.org.uk/sites/default/files/file_attach/GamCare%20Annual%20Statistics%202014-15%20FINAL.pdf
- Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of callers to Gamcare’s support service in 2014/15 disclosed debts of between £20,000 and £100,000 – www.gamcare.org.uk/sites/default/files/file_attach/GamCare%20Annual%20Statistics%202014-15%20FINAL.pdf
- Counselling sessions delivered by Gamcare’s increased by 29 per cent between 2013/13 and 2014/15 from 34,789 to 44,955 – www.gamcare.org.uk/sites/default/files/file_attach/GamCare%20Annual%20Statistics%202014-15%20FINAL.pdf
- There were 9,308 customer incidents related to gambling activity in betting shops requiring police assistance in 2013/14 in England – an average call out of 179 times per week – according to the Gambling Commission
- A Westminster Hall debate on FOBTs will be held on Tuesday 26 April.