Campaigners in Blackpool have expressed dismay after a bid to have the maximum bet on some gambling machines significantly reduced was rejected by the government.
Newham Council had led calls for the highest stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to be cut from £100 to £2. But the Government says it has already introduced strong controls to safeguard against problem gambling.
Councils are concerned about clusters of betting shops forming, particularly in deprived areas.
Estimates from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling show punters on the Fylde poured close to £50m into FOBTs last year- raking in a £9m profit for the bookies.
The research found there are around 3,200 “problem” gamblers using the machines on the Fylde coast and they alone are worth £3.7m a year to betting companies - or £1,656 each.
Campaigners in Blackpool, where most of the Fylde’s 243 machines are, say the Government should be doing more to address the issue.
The refusal to reduce the maximum bet is an absolutely appalling decision considering the majority of these betting shops are in the most deprived areasCoun John Jones
Coun John Jones who represents Bloomfield ward which is one of the poorest areas of Blackpool, said: “The refusal to reduce the maximum bet is an absolutely appalling decision considering the majority of these betting shops are in the most deprived areas.
“My worry is that when people are having financial problems, they may be tempted to bet.
“When they are desperate they look for ways to make some money but can end up getting into even worse difficulty.”
The proposal to limit bets had been submitted under legislation which allows councils to urge central government to change the law to help them promote the “sustainability of local communities”.
Earlier this year, new rules were introduced which mean anyone wanting to place a stake over £50 on the machines has to interact with staff or set up an account with a bookmaker.
“The government said the change will allow staff to monitor behaviour and act if they identify signs of problem gambling. But Coun Jones said this did not go far enough.
He said: “They are asking the people who are making the money to supervise the customers.”
The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) says the average spend per player in Blackpool is £5.50 which shows most people do bet responsibly.
The industry’s view on FOBTs
A spokesman for William Hill said: “William Hill is a socially responsible and regulated operator with a strong track record of promoting responsible gambling. Our Board and senior management regularly monitor and review compliance against exacting standards.
“While problem gambling levels in the UK are low by international standards (and possibly falling) nevertheless, the industry accepts it has a responsibility to address public concern and has taken a number of steps:”
Those steps include:
• Committing to self-regulation by leading on the development of the Association of British Bookmaker’s Code on Responsible Gambling and Player Protection;
• Promoting responsible gambling in shops and signposting customers to counselling where necessary;
• Ensuring customers are faced with time and cash limits on machines;
• Developing software to identify problem and alerting the customer; and
• Ensuring staff remain well-trained and diligent.