Worthing MP: Betting terminals ‘ripping people off’

Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley
Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley

Fixed-odds betting terminals are ‘ripping people off’, according to Worthing West’s MP who has backed proposals to cut the maximum stakes launched by ministers.

A new limit of between £2 and £50 could be set for users of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), as concerns have been raised with the current arrangements where visitors to bookmakers can place up to £100 every 20 seconds.

A 12-week public consultation on proposed changes has been launched, with the Association of British Bookmakers suggesting the focus of any final decision should be on measures of ‘genuine benefit to problem gamblers’.

Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley, who is secretary for the all-party parliamentary group looking at FOBTs, called for the maximum stake for such machines to be brought down to £2 and labelled them ‘ways of stripping money from people’.

Appearing on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC Two this morning (Tuesday October 31), Sir Peter suggested the machines were ‘ripping people off’, and referring to a guest of the show who suffers from a gambling addiction added: “If we brought it down to two pounds people like him could have fun, they could risk a bit, lose a bit, perhaps gain a bit, and he would be able to live his life without disturbance.”

He continued: “Come down to Worthing, look at Connaught Leisure, look at the stakes there, look at the fun people are having.

“Come to Worthing’s Rowlands Road, into Gala Bingo, see people in society, in the community being able to buy food cheaply, stake small amounts of money on bingo, some small machines, nothing like the kind of pour your money down this slot for these FOBTs and contrast that with what some of the so-called bookmakers think they are defending.

“They are not defending it, they are ripping people off.”

The Government has also asked the Gambling Commission for more information about how better tracking and monitoring of FOBTs can help protect players, and if the spin speed of games such as roulette should be examined.

There will also be a package of measures to strengthen protections around online gambling and gambling advertising to reduce the risk to children and vulnerable people.

Tracey Crouch, the Government’s gambling minister, said: “It is vital that we strike the right balance between socially responsible growth and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, from gambling-related harm.

“Given the strong evidence and public concerns about the risks of high stakes gaming machines on the high street, we are convinced of the need for action.

“That is why today we have set out a package of proposals to ensure all consumers and wider communities are protected.”

However Tom Watson, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, called the Government’s response to FOBTs ‘deeply disappointing’.

He explained; “Ministers have squandered a real opportunity to curb highly addictive Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, which can cause real harm to individuals, their families and local communities. After months of delays they’ve simply decided to have another consultation.

“And instead of taking firm measures on the proliferation of gambling advertising, on TV and online, the Government have again been found wanting.

“Britain is suffering from a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction. The measures announced today will do very little for those suffering from gambling addiction and for the millions, including hundreds of thousands of children, who are at risk of developing an addiction.

“Labour is committed to reducing the maximum stake for FOBTs to £2 a spin and will ban gambling company advertising on football shirts.”

A statement released from the Association of British Bookmakers, said: “Today’s consultation sets out a number of proposals which we will consider and respond to.

“We believe the focus of any final decision should be to ensure measures are adopted that will be of genuine benefit to problem gamblers.

“Betting shops cater for over 6 million customers every year and the vast majority of them gamble responsibly.

“We know that most problem gamblers use 7 or more different types of gambling products, therefore there is a challenge for the whole gambling industry to move from a position where there is a stable level of problem gambling in this country to one where problem gambling rates are decreasing.

“Betting shops are investing very significant sums of money to help identify those at risk so that they get the help that they need, we are continually updating and working to improve responsible gambling measures.”

Meanwhile John White, chief executive officer of BACTA the trade association for the amusement and gaming machine industry in the UK, said: “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction on FOBTs, and a welcome acknowledgement by Government of the dangers posed to gamblers by high-stakes FOBTs. We now urge Government to move to decisive action and making high-stakes gambling on every high street a thing of the past.

“We do however urge Government to cast aside the notion of a £50 stake as it will have little to no impact. It is only through a truly substantial reduction that we can effectively protect consumers from the risk of gambling harm.

“Stronger regulation has long been needed in this area: we are pleased to see it is now on the table, but to be worth anything the good intentions must now be followed through.”

To respond to the consultation, which closes on January 23, 2018, click here.

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