Nearly £7m was lost last year by thousands of people in Lancashire through machines dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling”.
New figures show punters in Central Lancashire gambled more than £36m in a single year on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), with millions being lost.
The research by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFFG) comes as a betting shop submitted plans to open another outlet in Preston, taking the city’s number of betting shops to almost 30.
In total there are currently 47 betting shop licences across Preston, South Ribble and Chorley, with 174 FOBTs – touch-screen roulette games with £100 maximum stake per spin.
Last year a total of £36.2m was inserted into the machines and £6.8m was lost in central Lancashire alone.
Preston Town Hall chiefs demanded urgent action to tackle the issue last year claiming the machines were the “crack cocaine of gambling” and last week Preston Council’s communities scrutiny panel met with representatives from William Hill and The Campaign for Fairer Gambling.
The panel’s chairman, Coun Bhikhu Patel, today said action needs to be taken to tackle the “big problem”.
He said: “The main concerns people had were that young people were getting addicted to gambling, and the fact it was very easy to gamble away a lot of money.
“And there is nothing to alert the individuals themselves to say the person is getting into difficulty.
“After a certain stage, you lose so much money you get agitated and angry and put more money in.”
Deputy leader of the Council, Coun John Swindells, said: “The figures are startling, but it’s no surprise when you’re looking at almost £200m being gambled in the wider area over the past year, that more and more betting companies are looking to open.
“Preston Council is working with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester to put some pressure on the Government about this because, at the minute, we’re very limited in what powers we have.”
He added: “I think a lot of the gambling on these machines is fuelled by desperation, people are sometimes betting their dinner money away in the hope of hitting the jackpot, and sadly, it rarely happens.
“It seems that it’s ones who can least afford it are being hit the worst, it’s sod’s law. These machines are taking money out of communities.”
The CFFG states that between 2002 and 2012, the number of FOBTs has risen to over 34,000 and the profit generated for bookmakers has now reached over £1.4 billion.
Major bookmakers are said to earn more than £900 per week profit from each roulette machine they operate and they are allowed to have up to four per betting shop.
A spokesman for CFFG said: “Approximately 50 per cent of all profits made by land-based bookmakers are now derived from FOBTs.
“The game driving this explosion in profits is roulette, which accounts for approximately 90 per cent of turnover and profit.
“Casino-style games are considered hard-core gambling that was previously restricted to highly regulated casinos.
“By introducing them to betting shops, access to this type of hard-core gambling has been made available on every high street across the country.”
The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) have criticised the figures released by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFFG), claiming the methodology is unreliable.
They said that the CFFG data uses averages and makes assumptions that cannot be equally applied to every machine in every area, and that people in poorer areas gamble less frequently and spend less on gambling.
Dirk Hansen, chief executive of Gamcare, which offers support and information for people suffering through gambling problems, said FOBTs presented a “riskier from of gambling”.
He said: “In terms of people using our services, there’s probably about a third of calls related to these machines.
“They certainly cause real problems for some people, but it’s not the only gambling activity that people are involved in.
“We are concerned about the ease of access to these machines, and they do present a riskier form of gambling compared to other things on the high street.
“People need to be aware of the risks.”