MPs come to defence of bookies as fixed-odds terminal row continues

David Cameron and Ed Miliband are both talking about a crackdown on bookies but some MPs are not convinced

Rowan Griffiths Slot machines in an adult gaming shop
Slot machines in an adult gaming shop

You can wager £100 every 20 seconds on fixed-odds betting terminals.

Clearly, they have the capacity to prey on the most vulnerable in society and lead them into a spiral of debt.

So are bookmakers guilty of targeting the weak just to make a quick buck? Not everybody thinks so.

In fact, yesterday bookmakers won the backing of MPs who say they make a valuable contribution to the economy and shouldn’t, in fact, be attacked for installing high-stakes betting machines.

Politicians, including Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, have come to the defence of the nation’s bookies following controversy over electronic roulette-style machines called fixed-odds betting terminals, which allow gamblers to bet up to £300-a-minute.

Research by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling estimated that gamblers lost £31m on 966 high-stake machines across the North East in 2012/13.

And the Labour front bench, backed by a number of the region’s MPs, is pushing the Government to change the law so that local authorities can limit the number of machines in any neighbourhood.

Under the Labour leadership’s proposals, betting shops will be put in a separate class for planning permission, allowing councils to reject proposals to open new ones.

Councils would also be able to control the number of fixed-odds betting terminals in each bookmakers - or simply order bookies to take every machine out.

And new laws would require the machines to remind gamblers how much they had bet, and lost, on a regular basis.

But a number of MPs have now come to the defence of bookmakers, arguing that the campaign against them could hurt high streets - and the horse racing industry.

A Commons motion signed by 10 MPs including Labour MP Mr Anderson, warned they were “concerned by the campaign which is being waged against fixed odds betting terminals in bookmakers’ shops and against bookmakers themselves.”

The MPs denied claims that bookmakers were targeting the poor, saying: “Bookmakers site their shops in affordable, populated areas, as do owners of many shops, and do not target areas of deprivation.”

And they added: “The sport of horse racing, the finances of which remain in a very poor state, is dependent on bookmakers for much of its income, and ... any reduction in their profits would have a serious knock-on effect on the UK’s second most popular spectator sport, putting thousands of jobs at risk.”

They urged the Government to look at the evidence rather than giving in to pressure.

At the same time, other MPs continued to call for action against the machines - and Ministers hinted they were preparing a crackdown.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham told the House of Commons: “There is one fixed-odds betting terminal for every 701 adults in my Stockton North constituency, one of the country’s most deprived, and one for every 18,267 people in the affluent Broadland constituency.”

North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon told the House of Commons: “A friend and constituent of mine, despite being self-excluded from his local Ladbrokes, recently walked into that shop and, using his partner’s debit card, promptly lost £2,000 on a fixed-odds gaming machine.”

She asked Local Government Minister Nick Boles: “How can the Minister justify, to people like my friend, his policies, which are making it easier for more betting shops to open and harder for gamblers to fight their addiction?”

The Minister said: “This Government share the concerns she has expressed about the way in which some people can fall prey to these machines.

“The Government and the Prime Minister made clear that we will look at the evidence, that we are conducting a review with the Responsible Gambling Trust and that we will then come forward with proposals, but I hope she will admit that it was the Government she supported who brought in the relaxation in the first place.”

David Cameron has previously said he shares concern about fixed-odds betting terminals.

Earlier this month, he told the House of Commons: “I think there are problems in the betting and gaming industry and we need to look at them. This is a problem, it does need looking at, we have a review under way.

“Frankly we are clearing up a situation that was put in place under the last government but I think if we work together we can probably sort it out.”

Ministers would draw up proposals “in the spring” based on the findings of the review currently under way, he said.

And Mr Cameron also blamed Labour for allowing the betting machines to proliferate after the previous government relaxed gambling regulations - a claim Labour leader Ed Miliband didn’t entirely deny.

Mr Miliband, also earlier this month, told the Commons: “Let me say the 2005 gambling act limited the number of machines to four per betting shop, but it didn’t go nearly far enough.”

However, it is Labour that has led the way in calling for action on the machines in recent months - even though some MPs are not convinced that attacking bookmakers should be a priority.

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