On Monday, the BBC aired its much-anticipated Panorama on gambling machines. The programme followed the story of Lee Murphy, who killed himself after struggling with a 20-year gambling addiction. In Lee’s confession to his partner, he talked about the consequences of high stakes, high-frequency gambling machines – otherwise known as Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – and how they wreaked havoc on his life.
The story of Lee’s addiction is all too common. Thousands of people get caught up in gambling every year, many from a very early age. Like Lee, they gamble away their hard-earned wages on betting terminals and take out high-interest payday loans to surface the costs. The result is unmanageable debt, mental health problems and the breakdown of families. It also harms society as a whole: wages are diverted from local businesses to bookies’ pockets; anti-social behaviour springs up around betting shop ‘clusters’; and additional policing costs taxpayers.
The effects of problem gambling are hardly surprising, once we look at how these machines operate. FOBTs allow people to gamble as much as £100 per spin, every 20 seconds. That means you could blow £3,000 in 10 minutes. What’s more is that these machines are commonplace in betting shops right across the country, and thousands more are set to be installed.
Hyndburn is one of 93 Councils which have signed a proposal submitted by the Local Government Association to reduce the maximum stake from £100 to £2. Despite the submission being the biggest ever, the Government continues to kick it into the long grass. The Tories refuse to acknowledge the scale of problem gambling.
That is why I tabled amendments on Monday, during Parliament’s consideration of the Wales Bill, which would have allowed the Welsh Assembly to have control over gambling regulation in Wales and why I have continued to raise this matter on the floor of the House of Commons. Local authorities should be able to change the way in which gambling is carried out in their communities. Local people should be able to have the power to save their high streets from anti-social behaviour. And local councils should be able to intervene and protect vulnerable people from being exploited by multi-millionaire gambling corporations.
In typical Tory fashion, however, the Government chose to ignore these concerns. By doing so, it laid bare how false its commitment to ‘devolution’ is. If it was serious about devolving power to communities, the Government would listen to local authorities who are crying out to have power over concrete issues like problem gambling. Its inaction proves how meaningless the rhetoric of ‘devolution’ is under the current Government.
If you have a problem with gambling, you can contact Gamblers Anonymous UK on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact my Constituency Office on 01254 382283
You can find out more information about FOBTs at www.fairergambling.org