Updated: Friday, 16th November 2018 @ 3:41pm

Like 'crack cocaine': MPs condemn colossal £1.7billion gambled on betting machines across Greater Manchester

Like 'crack cocaine': MPs condemn colossal £1.7billion gambled on betting machines across Greater Manchester

By Henry Vaughan

Gamblers in Greater Manchester staked a whopping £1.7 billion on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) last year, prompting campaigners to brand the high stakes machines ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’.

The figures released by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling reveal that £630 was bet for every person in the region on terminals where punters can place stakes of up to £100 every 20 seconds.

In Manchester Central alone almost £190million was pumped into 182 touch-screen roulette and casino gaming machines in 50 betting shops.

The proliferation of bookmakers offering FOBTs in deprived areas has led to claims that the industry is deliberately targeting poorer regions.

Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, whose constituency saw almost £95million fed into 91 terminals in 25 outlets said she was concerned about the amount of money gambled on them.

She said: “The national figures appear to show that bookmakers are deliberately targeting poorer areas with the highest levels of deprivation – areas where people simply cannot afford to lose this money.

"Many people are already struggling with debt and this can only make it worse. The impact of problem gambling on communities already suffering from economic hardship can be serious if people are turning to crime to fund gambling losses.”

In Greater Manchester, areas like Manchester Central, Bolton South East, Salford and Eccles and Wythenshawe and Sale East top the table in terms of money spent and number of betting shops and FOBTs.

Traditionally more affluent areas such as Hazel Grove, Cheadle, Altrincham and Sale West and Bolton West are at the foot of the table, with less money spent and fewer betting shops and FOBTs.

Labour MP for Manchester Central, Lucy Powell, whose constituency saw the most money spent on FOBTs in Greater Manchester and one of the highest rates in the country, said: “I am shocked to see the amounts being spent on these high-stake machines in my constituency.

“These Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are not normal betting, they are highly addictive, demand high-stakes and make huge profits for the betting shops. In the last year nearly £190 million was squandered on these machines in my constituency.

“I am worried that people who really cannot afford to be spending these vast sums are being deliberately targeted.”

However, a spokesperson from the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) called the figures ‘misleading’, claiming that FOBTs have a pay-out rate of 97% meaning the majority of money turned over is recycled money.

He said: “The idea that bookmakers target vulnerable communities is both false and offensive. Like any other retailer, we locate our shops where footfall is high and rents are affordable.

“These factors vary which explains there can be different numbers of shops in different parts of the country. At a time of economic uncertainty and record retail vacancies, we are proud to play our part in supporting jobs right across the UK.”

Based on research published by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, the ABB says that 4,967 people are employed in betting shops in the North West with almost 7,000 jobs in total as a result of the bookmaking industry, which contributes £346 million a year to the region’s economy.

ABB’s spokesperson added: “As businesses, we take our social responsibilities extremely seriously which is why we voluntarily contribute £5million each year for the research, education and treatment of problem gamblers. Without this source of funding, many charitable services would not be available.”

Campaign for Fairer Gambling Consultant, Adrian Parkinson, is a former betting industry insider who was involved in the development of FOBTs from 1999 onwards.

He said: “The high stakes and speed of play have led to the machines being called “the crack cocaine of gambling”, and the Gambling Act 2005 limits each betting shop to four FOBTs – so bookies leapfrog regulations by opening up as many shops as possible, which is why we get clustering, especially in poorer areas as our research has shown.

“We believe the only way to stop machine-driven proliferation of betting shops is to make the machines less profitable.”

The profit made by betting shops, known as the gross gambling yield, was more than £54million across Greater Manchester, according to the campaign’s analysis based on available data.

Campaigners recommend reducing the maximum stake from £100 to £2, increasing the time between plays and removing table game content to bring the machines in line with other Category B machines.

Mr Parkinson added: “We are pushing for the Government to make the decision to include FOBTs in a full scale review on stakes and prizes.”

Picture courtesy of Gene Hunt, with thanks

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