Preston’s £95m gambling machine addiction

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in a bookmakers
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in a bookmakers
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MORE than £95m has been gambled in Preston in one year on betting machines alone, according to latest figures.

The statistics have been released by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which says tougher regulation must be brought in for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

It comes amid claims that the number of young people becoming addicted to gambling has rocketed in recent years.

With 24 betting shops across Preston and up to 10 of those within the city centre, gamblers themselves say fixed odds betting terminals are one of the major concerns.

But gambling has also moved online, with a recent surge in young compulsive gamblers, hooked on internet betting.

Preston’s Gamblers Anonymous (GA) group has reported a major increase in the number of people attending their meetings, particularly younger addicts.

Compulsive gambler James, in his 20s, started going to the support group after becoming addicted to both physical and online betting.

In relation to online gambling, he explains: “It doesn’t feel like real money – you don’t feel the consequences because you don’t have the money in your hand – it’s just all digits.

“It’s not real, it’s effectively like Monopoly money, and the games are designed like that.”

Latest figures from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling relate to FOBTs from October 2014 to September 2015, and experts believe this year’s will be even higher, given trends so far.

They estimate in Preston, almost £17.8m was put into fixed odds betting terminals in physical cash, with gamblers wagering more than £95m on the machines alone during that period.

More than £3.5m was lost by gamblers in the city on the machines.

Adrian Parkinson, consultant for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, explains: “When you have these people addicted to gambling or prone to problematic gambling, they don’t play for £5 and walk away.

“If they put a fiver in, that will be followed with more money.

“With roulette, if you play at the casino, you’re with other people and the event can take two to three minutes to complete.

“If you play on a machine, the event is a soulless operation between you and the machine and it takes place in 20 seconds.

“It is five or six times faster.

“You might not walk in with the intention of losing £600.”

Whistleblower Adrian says the machines give the “impression you were close”, and gamblers make “losses disguised as wins”.

He says: “They start out at small stakes, but they start experiencing these ‘near misses’.

“They might stake £15 on the board and win £9 back, which is actually a loss of £6.

“But they perceive it as another £9 they can bet on that game.

“It’s that fast action, and the lack of human interaction.”

Adrian, who previously worked in the gambling industry for 26 years, says the organisation is “not an anti-gambling campaign”, and said: “We don’t want to ban machines in betting shops.”

He says: “What I personally argue is, if you go into the pub, everyone has seen a pub fruit machine.

“They are gaming machines, potentially addictive, but capped at £1 per spin.

“They are capped because of their addictive nature, to prevent people getting into too much trouble.

“If you go to an amusement arcade, the government says the maximum stake is £2 per spin.

“They are designated, licensed gambling premises.

“Go to a casino, and gaming machines are capped at £5 per spin.

“They are the most highly regulated gambling environments in the UK.

“Then you come to betting shops. There are 9,000 betting shops on the high street, easily accessible.”

He says the machines allow £100 per spin, and says: “Our argument is not to ban machines in betting shops, but for the government to implement a safe, responsible level.

“A similar environment on the high street as amusement arcades, which are allowed at £2 a spin.

“The last coalition government tried to get to grips and said if your customers want to spend more than £50 a spin, they have to sign up for a loyalty card or go to the counter and hand the money to a cashier.

“So they can still gamble more than £50.

“Some are actually playing two machines at a time.”

Coun John Swindells, Preston Council’s cabinet member for planning, health and regulation, says there had been “absolutely nothing” the local authority could do to control the number of betting shops in Preston, as planning permission was not needed to change certain outlets into bookmakers.

However, betting shops and pay day loan shops were last year moved into a different use class – sui generis – meaning planning permission is now needed to convert any premises that wasn’t already a betting shop or pay day lender into one.

Coun Swindells says: “We’ve been hamstrung up to now with the legislation as it was.

“But now the legislation has changed, we’ll be reviewing our position and seeing what we can and can’t do with further applications as they come in.”

He says there are already “too many” betting shops and fixed odds betting terminals in Preston, and says their growth had been the problem.

He explains: “We can’t turn back time so we are stuck with what we’ve got, but we will go on to look at what we can do if more applications come in.

“We can’t reduce them because, even if one betting shop closes down, it can revert to another company, because it’s already got permission for that.”

A spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers says: “With highly trained staff and an emphasis on knowing our customers, high street betting shops are among the safest places in which to gamble.

“All shop staff are trained to identify anyone who may be getting into difficulty with their gambling and there is a plethora of material in shops highlighting what to do if you need help.

“This may include details of the local Gamblers Anonymous group, the national problem gambling helpline, or ultimately giving a customer the option to exclude themselves from all shops in the area for a year, or more.

“All these measures have helped ensure problem gambling rates have remained low – at around just 0.5 per cent of the population since 1999. Only last month all betting shops took part in Gamble Aware Week, which encouraged people to only bet what they could afford to lose, and to set limits on what they gamble and stick to them.

“Gaming machines themselves have been in betting shops for over 15 years.

“They are not new products and since their introduction there has been no rise in problem gambling levels.

“While it is possible to stake £100, the reality is hardly anyone does.

“Since April this year, new measures have been introduced so that anyone wanting to stake more than £50 has to first go to the counter and talk to staff.

“The average stake on a gaming machine in Preston is only £8.30, and an average game lasts for just over nine minutes.

“Effectively banning one type of machine risks people migrating to other, less safe forms of gambling.”