A national campaign to remove ‘addictive’ gaming machines from betting shops has received the support of Hackney Council.
The council has echoed calls to reduce the maximum stake on the fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), also known as B2 machines, from £100 per play to £2 per play, controlling the increase of betting shops on its high streets.
The national campaign for fairer gambling, Stop The FOBTs, works to gather public support to pressure the government into altering maximum stakes on FOBTs without primary legislation.
FOBTs have been named “the crack cocaine of gambling” because of their high addictive potential.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, from Stop The FOBTs, said: “The Council has limited powers on the regulation of the proliferation of betting shops, but these machines are the reason why so many betting shops are opening.”
He added: “Whilst gaming is highly regulated in a casino environment, these machines are 5 or 6 times faster than any other table game, and are accessible on every high street… it’s a recipe for disaster.”
There are 66 bookmakers and 246 FOBTs in Hackney with four machines allowed per shop. FOBTs operate unmanned and are highly profitable, leading bookmakers to open multiple outlets to maximise the number of FOBT machines.
Research carried out by Geofutures found that there is statistical correlation between deprivation levels in geographical areas and the density of betting shops.
Peter Craske, PR manager for the Association of British Bookmakers, said: “The claim that there is a proliferation of betting shops in Hackney because of a growth in machines is simply untrue.”
He continued: “Gaming machines have been in betting shops and enjoyed by our customers for over a decade and as the Government recently stated, in that time no evidence has been produced to show these machines cause problem gambling; quite the opposite, the number of problem gamblers who cite gaming machines dropped by 21% according to the Gambling Commission.”
A spokesperson for Ladbrokes said: “Councils have no powers over machine numbers or stakes – these powers remain with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.”
He added: “We understand that local communities are concerned about the future of high streets but continually attacking betting shops based on prejudice is not the answer. Each shop provides employment for over 5 people.”
Local council authorities have limited options today to stop new betting shops from opening, as no planning permission is needed if a bank or an estate agent is converted into a betting shop.
The Hackney Lib Dems have proposed that all commercial properties owned by the Council which are sold or leased to new tenants, must not be used as gambling venues.
The issue is not a new one, ELL reported in January 2013 on the crushing effects FOTBs can have on people’s lives. While Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe has been pushing to limit the number of high street betting shops since 2010.