High stakes gambling machines sucking millions out of North East's poorest communities

MPs and campaigners say fixed-odds betting terminals  target the most vulnerable and are a world away from a one-off bet on the horses

Gambling machine
Gambling machine

High stakes gambling machines are sucking millions out of the North East’s poorest communities as the region’s men are revealed as the most active gamblers in the country.

A survey by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) showed 34% of the region’s men over the age of 16 have gambled at least three times over the last 12 months.

While most may only be enjoying the occasional flutter, warnings have been sounded over a minority who find themselves addicted and stung for thousands of pounds.

And MPs and campaigners said that fixed-odds betting terminals – which allow people to bet large sums of cash within seconds – target the most vulnerable and are a world away from a one-off bet on the horses.

The HSCIC study showed that only 24% of the region’s men don’t gamble at all, while 9% – the highest proportion in the UK – admitted to taking part in seven or more gambling activities in a year.

Similarly, 34% of North East women said they gambled once throughout the year, while 30% gambled as many as three times.

But in London, the same survey showed that only 22% of men had gambled twice or thrice in the last 12 months and just 3% had placed a bet more than seven times.

Meanwhile, a report put together by campaign group Fairer Gambling showed how the 966 high-stake machines across the region sucked £31m out of its poorest communities in 2012/13.

Punters can lose up to £100 every 20 seconds on the fixed-odds machines – branded the “crack cocaine” of gambling.

Labour MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, wants to see tougher regulation for fixed-odds terminals.

She said in Parliament: “In South Shields, more than £2.8m has been lost on high stakes fixed odds betting terminals.

“Those machines allow players to gamble as much as £100 every 20 seconds and have already been banned by a number of countries.

“Will the minister take action to tackle the damage that the machines do and back Labour’s call to limit the maximum stake on these machines to £2?”

Culture minister Helen Grant insisted that the machines were being kept under review, but did not back further regulation.

Last month, the Coallition approved a review which will allow betting shops to keep the maximum stake for fixed-odds terminals at £100. Labour MPs have opposed the decision.

Britain is the only country in the developed world which allows players to gamble £100 per play on these high-stakes gaming machines. Several countries, including Ireland, have banned them outright.

Mrs Lewell-Buck added: “The Government has already missed one opportunity to take action against these machines, and unless we keep up the pressure then they will continue to turn a blind eye.

“These machines contribute to problem gambling and ruin lives, especially in poorer areas.”

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