Fixed odds betting terminal users lose more than £4 million over a year in Ipswich
More than £4million has been lost by thousands of people in Ipswich in the course of a year through machines dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling”.
New estimates about the scale of losses on fixed odds betting terminals suggest 4,356 people in the town – listed as the 83rd most deprived in the country – were using the devices, losing an average of £942 each.
Gambling charities say the impact of this is likely to be more widespread with studies showing that for each problem gambler, between five and 15 members of their family and friends are affected, either through their financial losses or the destructive behaviour that is the product of their addiction.
The figures, compiled by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, using the latest Gambling Commission annual report and census data, estimated that there were 104 of the machines and 28 betting shop licences issued in the borough.
It also estimated that 1,980 players in the Forest Heath district lost £1,259 each on average over the course of a year, while in Waveney 3,872 gamblers lost an average of £644 over the course of a year.
Ron Turrell, a GamCare councillor at East Anglian addiction charity Phoenix + Norcas, said that he only saw a tiny fraction of the gamblers out there, but a high proportion of those he helped were addicted to fixed odds betting terminals, with many losing thousands of pounds.
“It very much depends on the person’s ability to obtain money to gamble on the machines. I hear stories of people losing literally thousands of pounds on it, so that average of £900 sounds a bit on the low side I would have thought.”
Ipswich Borough Council leader and Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate David Ellesmere said: “The proliferation of betting shops and Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) within those shops should be a matter of concern for everyone.
“Like the punters who enter these shops, the odds are stacked against councils who wish to do something about it.
“Changes to regulations brought in by the current Government mean that there is no need to get planning permission to change a town centre shop into a betting shop.
“The Government should change the law so that all changes of use to betting shops require planning permission and so that councils have the ability both to limit the number of FOBTs within shops and to reduce the maximum stake on these machines.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, said it is important people who are addicted to gambling get help and measures are put in place to help people.
He added: “If the council feels there are too many (betting shops) then they should do something about it. I for one don’t bet, it’s not something I enjoy, but some people do and I don’t want to go around banning things that people enjoy, but there are people who have a problem with gambling.”
Adrian Parkinson, consultant for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “The mapping and data estimates indicate the FOBT landscape drastically changed last year with an apparent surge in betting shop licences and a predicted growth to over £1.6billion in FOBT player losses. Our mapping now gives councils and councillors the opportunity to look at the impact across their boroughs and communities. It will help them to see through the smoke screen the bookmakers are trying to create with their new code of conduct.”
The gambling industry insists it does not target deprived areas and has introduced a code of conduct for player protection and responsible gaming.
Fixed odds betting terminals were launched in 1999 after then chancellor Gordon Brown scrapped tax on individual bets in favour of taxing bookmakers’ profits.
After the 2005 Gambling Act, fixed odds betting terminals were given legal backing and put under the same regulatory framework as fruit machines.
People can wager £100 every 20 seconds on fixed-odds betting terminals.
The number of betting shops in the UK increased from 8,862 in 2009 to 9,031 in 2013. The big three operators have plans to open hundreds of new shops although many independent operators have closed.