Here is this original version of the week’s column for the South Manchester report. The paper edited some words out and made up its own headline, but the meaning is the same.
John Leech MP
Last week there was a Parliamentary debate about the impact of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (or FOBTs for short).
Locally, we have 68 FOBT’s in 17 betting shops across the constituency. About one for every 1100 local people. And payout is higher than for regular fruit machines. But in some areas, like Manchester City Centre, there are many more FOBT’s and often they are found in clusters in poorer areas.
Dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling”, FOBTs allow punters to stake £100 every 20 seconds. The Labour Government allowed bookies up to 4 machines under the 2005 Act, despite Liberal Democrat warnings, and bookies have become increasingly reliant on extra income from FOBTs.
The Liberal Democrats want to reduce these highly addictive machines. Our policy would be to put bookies in a separate planning class, allowing local Councils to control their number.
Labour’s Deputy Leader Harriet Harman has admitted Labour got this wrong in power, and their motion last week talked about reducing the rate of spin of the machines.
But that is not the fundamental problem. The main problem is the maximum stake. At 50 spins an hour keeping a £100 stake, that means a maximum £5000 loss. At £2 a spin, that maximum loss is £100.
The Tories remain unconvinced of the need for restrictions on FOBTs or extra powers to restrict the number of betting shops, since local authorities can already use article 4 directions to combat their proliferation.
So the Coalition Government has agreed to carry out research and make a final decision based on evidence. It has also challenged the betting industry to implement enhanced player protection measures by this March.
If the industry fails to deliver or if at any time the balance of evidence suggests action is required, the Government will reduce stakes and prizes.
It is no secret that there is disagreement between the coalition parties – I and the Liberal Democrats believe that there is clear evidence of the harm that FOBT’s do, and I am confident that the research will back our case.
Last year’s GamCare figures show that 39% of calls to its Helpline came from people who cited these machines specifically, while evidence from the Salvation Army estimated an increase of 30,000 between 2007-10 in the number of FOBT users who have a gambling problem.