North East gamblers lost £55.4m in 2013 – more money than anywhere else in the country outside London, new figures have shown.
The Campaign For Fairer Gambling (CFFG) says people in Newcastle are also most out of pocket in the region, with the addictive fixed odds terminals thought to be the root cause.
It is said gamblers in the North East lost £55.4m last year, with those in Tyneside losing on average £966 per gambler (the regional average is £894).
It comes as the pressure group accuses the gambling industry of targeting deprived areas with the highest unemployment, lowest income levels and higher crime rates.
Ed Miliband has spoken out on fixed odds machines, on which some punters can bet up to £300 a minute.
He said their use is “spreading like an epidemic”, and Culture Secretary Maria Miller has this week said gambling law needs reform to adequately protect punters.
She called on the Advertising Standards Agency to consider whether commercials from the industry were “appropriate”.
Leader of Newcastle City Council, Coun Nick Forbes, said the coalition must take action.
He said: “Gambling is a national issue, and it causes real misery for families when gamblers become addicted, and money which should be spent on food, bills and other essentials is lost to the gambling industry, which is very sophisticated in the way that it operates.
“People get out of their depth very quickly as the industry draws them in and, before they know it, they can lose an entire month’s wages.
“I have objected to new gambling licences across the city over a number of years, and the city council is pressing Government for greater powers to regulate an industry which, at its worst, can cause suffering to many.
“The city council considers very carefully the implications of granting licences but, ultimately, Government should be doing more.
“Anybody who has a serious debt problem should seek help and advice rather than ignore it because it will get worse if they do not tackle it.”
The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), meanwhile, has disputed the CFFG figures.
It said its figures show that gambling is decreasing nationally and that gambling rates are higher simply where more people gather.
Dirk Vennix, ABB’s chief executive, said: “The CFFG allegation is total fantasy. The gambling industry does not target deprived areas. It never has. It never will.
“Our data proves that beyond contestation.
“We don’t want problem gamblers in our shops. We want responsible gamblers who are in control.”
He added: “ABB research clearly shows 84% of all betting shops are located in commercial centres and are in the same locations as well-known high street brands such as Greggs, Subway and Nisa Local.”