Ban FOBTs, Says Scottish Parliament

The Scottish parliament has called for a ban on fixed-odds betting terminals, which have been compared to crack cocaine because of their alleged addictive qualities. Punters can lose hundreds of pounds in minutes on the high-stakes machines.

English council resubmits bill to limit FOBTs

Citing an oft-quoted description of fixed-odds betting terminals as “the crack cocaine of betting,” the website of the Scottish parliament has called for an all-out ban on the controversial machines, which have proliferated in high street betting shops across the U.K.

The parliament’s local government committee say FOBTs, which allow bettors to wager up to ?100 in a single bet and lose hundreds in one sitting, are “dangerous” and should be “outlawed.” In a study of FOBTs, the committee heard evidence saying there are around 1,900 of the machines in betting shops in Scotland, including 421 in Edinburgh alone.

According to the website, “The touchscreen terminals offer scores of games—most commonly roulette, but also bingo, simulated horse and greyhound racing and a range of slot machine games—and allow gamblers to place stakes of up to £100 every 20 seconds.”

MSP Kevin Stewart said committee members were “shocked” by the figures. “We have heard how quickly and easily players can become addicted and lose hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds,” he said. “The casino industry told us these machines are … unsuitable for the unsupervised environment of a bookmaker’s shop.”

FOBTs first came on the scene in 2001. Up to four machines can be permitted under a betting premises license. Communities and local councilors have griped that they have no authority to limit the number of bookies. The 2015 Scotland Bill, which would give the government the power to limit the number of FOBTs in new betting shops, “does not go far enough,” Stewart said. “We believe that the maximum stake of £100 per game and ability to play three games per minute mean FOBTs are a form of hard gambling and must, therefore, be banned from the high street.”

According to a 2014 report, Scots lost at least £4.1 billion on slot machines in a year, the equivalent of £820 per person in the land. The average spend in Edinburgh per person equaled £916 and £1187 respectively in Livingston in 2011-12. The committee has appealed to the U.K. and Scottish governments to commission an independent research study into the effects of playing FOBTs.

Meanwhile, according to BBC News, the U.K. Local Government Association wants to address ministers who rejected a July 2015 proposal to reduce maximum stakes on FOBTs from £100 to £2. Newham Council, for one, told the government FOBTs have “sucked the life blood out of local economies.” Councilors have resubmitted the plan, saying 25 percent of English councils back it.

In its response, the Association of British Bookmakers said, “It is difficult to understand the justification for the time and money councils are expending on this resubmission, or why they might expect a different outcome.”