British Prime Minister to address issues with gambling machines

David Cameron has ordered that the new code of conduct is to be stricter in response to concerns over fixed-odd gambling terminals. Downing Street is now poised to announce a heavy crackdown on high-speed, high-stakes gambling machines by issuing new penalties for bookmakers that fail to enforce the new limits on playing times and betting losses.

There is widespread concern over the increasing popularity of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which are sometimes referred to as “crack cocaine of gambling”, that last month the prime minister personally addressed the matter and began the process of the creation of a new industry code of conduct.

There is an increasing concern about what the social cost of the machines is. Betting shops have seen a boom during the economic crisis seeing double numbers of visitors on the high street over the last five years. Bookmakers are now occupying 9% of high street real estate, an ncrease from 4% in 2008. There are around 33,000 FOBTs in Great Britain.

Cameron is due this week to announce a clampdown on these terminals, by employing a range of regulatory and planning powers to halt the clustering of shops in city centers. These moves come soon after the chancellor’s surprising 5% increase on taxes for betting machines in the budget.

The prime minister’s personal interest in the matter has alarmed the management at bookmakers. In his letter, Cameron questioned if the industry limits were too high and formally asked the Gambling Commission, the industry’s regulator, to see if they should be reduced.

In what is called the first attempt by a leading bookmaker to perform an analysis on the betting patterns on its machines, Ladbrokes discovered in April 2013, that players used their FOBTs 4.8m times, staking over £1bn, over a one-month period.

There is now a proposal for a £250 limit on player losses, but it appears that this limit, which is meant to trigger a warning message on the screens and a visit from staff, would only happen after many hours of solitary and uninterrupted play. The Ladbrokes analysis showed that the average loss for a “60-minute or over” time period for roulette was little over £93, quite under the proposed £250 cap.

It is now understood by the government that these machines take highly addictive casino games, simply speed them up and then let gamblers place large bets in a quick fashion. The gambling industry regulator had warned last year that FOBTs, “expose even regular leisure gamblers to potentially harmful rates of loss, regardless of them not being classified as problem gamblers”.

A spokesman from Ladbrokes commented: “With the vast majority of machine play not problematic and under 20 minutes with low stakes, we don’t expect most playing sessions to be affected by these mandatory limits. We are looking forward to a constructive dialogue with the Government and the Commission to make sure we find the correct balance between uninterrupted play for the majority and targeted intervention for the ones who display any problematic behaviour.”

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