MP: Machines are a “blight”
New figures from the U.K. Gambling Commission show that fixed-odds betting terminals account for 52 percent of bookmaking revenues. According to the London Daily Mirror, that means bookies are making £1.6billion a year (US$2.4 billion) compared with the total £1.4billion generated from dog and horse racing, football betting and numbers games.
But FOBTs, first introduced in the U.K. in 2002, have come under fire of the high betting stakes, which critics say allow people to lose large amounts of money at one sitting. Punters in Scotland bet more than £4 billion (US$6.1 billion) on FOBTs last year, reported the London Daily Mail, including £2 billion wagered by low-income Scots. And the Campaign for Fairer Gambling in Northern Ireland says the high-stakes betting machines won £535 million from bettors there in a single year. Bettors can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on the machines, which feature games such as roulette, blackjack and poker and have a maximum payout of up to £500.
There are now more than 34,400 machines in betting shops around the country, a 75 percent increase since 2005. According to SBC News, the government is worried that FOBTs, memorably dubbed the “crack cocaine” of betting, are “seriously increasing problem gambling.”
MP Sadiq Khan, who is running as the Labour candidate for London mayor, has joined the Sunday People’s campaign to limit the games. “They are blighting communities and tearing at the fabric of society,” he said. “We must control the growth of betting shops before even more damage is done to our nation’s health and well-being.”
Khan and anti-gambling activists have demanded a £2 maximum stake. Simon Storer of the British Amusement Catering Trade Association, agreed, saying, “Until stakes are reduced, the problem they cause won’t go away.”
Simon Thomas, head of London’s Hippodrome Casino, said he also supports the limits. “No other country in the developed world allows £100 stake machines in easily accessible locations,” he said.