Britain’s Labor Party plans to call on Parliament to impose restrictions on the spread of a controversial class of electronic table game in the country’s high street betting shops.
With the casino-style machines, known as fixed-odds betting terminals, decried by problem gambling and community activists as a major social ill and opposed by local councils trying to stem a tide of betting shop license applications, Labor is joining the opposition Liberal Democrats in making a campaign issue of the machines.
A report by the BBC said the party will use an upcoming Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons to force the debate into the national spotlight.
Leader Ed Miliband said FOBTs are “becoming an epidemic” and has vowed to amend planning laws in England, Scotland and Wales to curb their growth if Labor regains power. The current limit of four machines per shop had led to “clusters” of shops opening together, he said, with councils powerless to stop them. He said his government would review the number of machines allowed per license and would legislate to place shops in a separate zoning class, which would allow councils to use planning powers to control their numbers. In some cases he said he wants councils to have the power to ban the machines outright, and he is pushing to slash the maximum bet size from £100 to £2 and implement technologies to limit play and remind gamblers of their spending.
It was Tony Blair’s Labor government that relaxed decades-old regulations to allow the FOBTs to mushroom in the first place. However, the party has accused bookmakers of exploiting the reforms to target poorer areas of the country.
There are about 33,000 of the machines in operation in the UK, where they generate in excess of US$2.46 billion annually for the larger bookmakers, or about half their annual profits.
So far, the Conservative government has resisted calls to limit bet sizes and prizes, although Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to examine the issues.