Gamblers in Lewisham are staunchly opposed to an “unfair” proposal to limit bets after the mayor called for a maximum £2 stake on electronic gambling machines in the borough.
Mayor Sir Steve Bullock has written to Tracey Crouch, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, to recommend a fixed upper amount for play on the machines as the council is unable to prevent the borough’s abundance of betting shops.
However, bookmakers and gamblers argue imposing a maximum stake would pose an unfair limitation on betting freedom, with gamblers adding that they would just go elsewhere to bet.
“£100 is a fair limit to give people a choice on how much they bet. Why should there be a limit imposed on gambling. There should be a fair choice”, said Richard Anes, a retired 52-year-old from Lewisham.
“It would affect what I can do here. I’d have to go to casinos in central London to bet, in Leicester Square for example” he said.
“There’s no point in changing it. It’s not up to the mayor. Why is it his business? It’s unfair; people should be able to go up to what amount they like”, said Michael Collard, a 22-year-old construction worker in Lewisham.
There are five times more betting shops in Lewisham than in more affluent boroughs such as Wimbledon leading to suggestions that bookmakers have targeted the poorest areas with low income levels, high unemployment and crime.
A duty manager from a Ladbrokes in Lewisham, who didn’t want to be named said: “£2 a bet is not a good idea because then the spin doesn’t give them the same pleasure or freedom that they like. Customers don’t always have to go to the limit and introducing the limit would just move customers to the West End, instead of staying and spending in the area.”
Malcolm George, the Chief Executive of The Association of British Bookmakers, believed that the maximum stake would pose a greater risk to gamblers in need of help.
“The ABB has a focus on encouraging responsible gambling and addressing some of the issues that gamblers may face. We don’t support such a drastic stake reduction such as those the mayor of Lewisham has proposed”, he said.
He added: “Betting shops are the safest places to gamble. There are staff who can intervene if there’s a problem, there’s the option to self-exclude – to not go in to betting shops – and there is a supportive environment. The risk is people will go elsewhere and choose to gamble in places that aren’t safe and secure.”
Defending the Mayor’s position, Adrian Parkinson, a spokesperson from The Campaign for Fairer Betting, said: “£2 spins are a responsible gambling level, where harm is limited because the potential losses are limited. Councils have seen an element of violence and criminality emanating from betting shops, with some players losing thousands of pounds and then smashing up the machines.”
“The situation in Lewisham is being replicated across the country. There are probably 100 councils which have passed motions to reduce bets to £2” Parkinson added.
Lewisham Council estimate around £14.5m was spent on the machines in 2014 alone. A gambler can place a bet on these machines every twenty seconds and potentially spend up to £300 every minute.
Despite the negative reactions, a new report released exclusively to ELL has estimated that if the money spent on betting machines was spent in other parts of the economy, 16,000 jobs would be created across the country.
The report was commissioned by The Campaign for Fairer Betting to investigate the economic impact of the machines.
The report, which is due to be released later this year, concluded: “£1bn of ‘average’ consumer expenditure supports around 21,000 jobs across the UK, whereas £1bn of expenditure on FOBTs [electronic gambling machines] supports only 4,500 jobs in the UK gambling sector.”
“This implies that an increase of £1bn in consumer spending on FOBTs destroys over 16,000 jobs in the UK.”
See how much money your borough spends on gambling machines by visiting the interactive map at Stop the FOBTs.
By Alex Jackson