Fixed-odds betting terminals issue is a shameful episode for the Government

Fixed odds gambling machines

Fixed odds gambling machines - Credit: Archant

Hats off to Conservative MP Tracey Crouch who resigned as a minister last week in protest at Government delays in reducing the maximum stake on Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

Politicians rarely get a good press and are usually regarded as being more interested in advancing their career than matters of principle. It is to Tracey’s credit that she has chosen principle over person interest.

Much less creditable is the Government’s behaviour over FOBTs.

These are gaming machines located in bookies which allow gamblers to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds.

They have been described as “the crack cocaine of gambling” due to their huge ability to get people hooked. Addicts have been known to lose thousands of pounds a day as losses can quickly escalate out of control.

Gambling addiction is affecting hundreds of thousands of people a year in Britain. Individual FOBT gamblers lost over £1,000 on more 233,000 occasions over a 10-month period. Relationships are breaking down and people are being made homeless as a result.

Given the devastation FOBTs are causing the Government should have acted long ago but they have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing this.

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In May this year they finally announced they would reduce the maximum stake to £2 and led everyone to believe it would happen in April 2019. As if this delay wasn’t long enough they have now said that it won’t happen until October next year.

The reason is simple enough. The gambling industry makes £1.6bn a year from FOBTs and they are a powerful lobbying group that the Government listens to. A six-month delay will net bookies a further £900m.

The Government knows that two people a day commit suicide because of gambling-related debts. Each day’s delay puts more people at risk.

Put bluntly, they are prepared to see people die so their mates in the gambling industry can maintain their profits.

This is a particularly shameful episode, even for this Government, and I am not surprised Tracey Crouch didn’t want anything to do with it.

MPs are planning to overturn this delay in Parliament over the next few weeks. Let us hope they succeed.

- David Ellesmere is the leader of Ipswich Borough Council

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