Gambling addiction is a growing problem in the UK, and many blame what have been dubbed as the crack cocaine of gambling fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). These betting machines allow punters to gamble up to £100 per spin, with each machine capable of spinning three times in a minute. FOBTs allow gamblers to play casino-style games that can include roulette, slot machines, poker, and blackjack.
Campaigners have been calling on the Government to reduce the maximum spin, but these calls have been rejected. Now, a former boss of one of the biggest bookmakers in Britain has accused the Government of ignoring the issue and turning a blind eye to the addiction FOBTs are causing.
Fintan Drury was Paddy Power chairperson from 2004 to 2010, and he believes that the millions raised in tax revenue by betting machines is the reason the Government refuses to reduce the maximum spin. However, the issue is not going away, with new proposals being presented in Parliament again this week demanding the maximum spin be reduced to £2.
As well as being linked to a growing number of gambling addicts in the UK, betting machines have also been connected to money laundering and violent or aggressive behaviour against betting shops and toward their staff.
Mr Drury said, At the heart of the gambling sector, there is a troubling partnership between government and industry. Despite irrefutable evidence of how much damage is being done to society, they support each other in a manner that facilitates the addictive tendencies of hundreds of thousands of citizens. FOBTs work the streets, and while government and the industry profit from them, they stand accused of being their pimps.
He has questioned how the Government can stand back and claim that fixed odds betting terminals are providing legitimate tax revenues when individual gamblers are capable of losing £18,000 in just one hour.
While refusing to reduce the maximum spin limit, ministers did rule that those who wanted to bet more than £50 per spin had to ask permission from betting shop staff. Nevertheless, with gambling machines raising millions every year for the Government in tax revenues, it has stopped short of introducing tougher regulations.
Just last week, Paddy Power Betfair was accused of not doing enough to protect problem gamblers. One individual with an obvious gambling problem was encouraged to keep betting until he had lost his house, five jobs, and access to his children.
A Growing Problem
Mr Drury said the betting industry needs to do more to protect vulnerable customers while also believing that gambling machines could have an adverse effect on bookmakers. He added, The central issue is not limited to one company. I know, as it happens, that it has senior people who could lead the necessary radical change.
Campaign for Fairer Gambling spokesman Adrian Parkinson agreed, and said, The cracks in the bookmakers campaign to protect their £100 spin machines are now getting deeper. We are aware of a number of people in the industry now privately voicing the same concerns.
Mar Parkinson said they welcomed Mr Drurys comments, and he believes that the rest of the betting industry will come clean about the risks posed by betting machines. He said it was about time that the betting industry and the Government get together to reduce the maximum stakes.
Nonetheless, the Government seems to be standing firm on its position at the moment, with a spokesperson saying, We introduced stronger gambling controls to help further protect players and promote responsible gambling in April . The government will continue to monitor the effectiveness of existing controls and will take further action if necessary.