Plans for extra controls over high stakes gambling machines is knocked back

The Labour Party attempt to limit the number of 'crack cocaine' gambling machines is rejected in the House of Commons

Daniel Hambury/PA Wire Calls are growing to restrict the stakes and prizes on fixed-odds betting machines
Calls are growing to restrict the stakes and prizes on fixed-odds betting machines

A plan to tighten controls on high stake gambling machines which last year sucked £31m out of the North East economy has been knocked back.

The Government won a Commons majority of 82 in a vote on a Labour motion calling for local councils to be given the power to limit the number of the machines which allow gamblers to bet £300 in a minute.

Labour had hoped Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs would rebel against the Government and support their demands for further controls.

Earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron insisted he would be prepared act if research suggested the machines – dubbed the “crack cocaine” of the gambling world – need to be more tightly regulated.

The Journal revealed earlier this week how millions of pounds were lost each year in the North East’s poorest communities on these high stakes gambling machines.

Campaigners say the fixed odds terminals are used by the most vulnerable in society.

A recent survey revealed the region’s men to be the most active gamblers in the country with 34% of them aged 16 or over having gambled at least three times in the last 12 months.

The research, carried out by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), showed just 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.

A separate report revealed how the 966 high-stake machines took £31m out of the region’s economy in 2012/13.

North East MP Roberta Blackman-Woods had helped lead the Labour campaign for tougher controls on fixed odds betting terminals, backed by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

The high-stakes machines, known as fixed odds betting terminals, can be installed in high street bookmakers and allow customers to bet £100 every 20 seconds.

Critics say they allow gamblers to lose far more than if they stuck to betting on horse racing or other traditional activities.

There are currently 33,000 Fixed Odds Betting Terminals making more than £1.5 billion each year, according to research by the Gambling Commission.

There have also been reports that fixed odds betting terminals are used by drug dealers to launder money.

Backbench Labour MPs had previously urged the Government to legislate to limit stakes to £2.

They also wanted a change to planning laws, making it easier for councils to block new bookmakers which contain the machines.

At the moment, bookies are classed in the same way as banks and building societies, which in many cases means they can be opened without planning consent required for change of use.

Shadow Ministers told the Commons a Labour government would put betting shops in a separate use class so that councils can use planning powers to control the number opening in their area

And it would allow councils to impose a limit on the number of fixed odds betting terminals a bookmakers can have – including setting a limit of zero.

At the moment, bookmakers are limited to four machines per premises, but local authorities have no influence over the numbers.

Conservatives pointed out that fixed odds betting terminals had proliferated under the last Labour government. A Government-backed Commons motion said any change in regulations should wait until research into the impact of the machines had been completed.

New laws were backed by Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North. He said: “The clustering of betting shops can cause enormous harm and it is utterly immoral that firms are able to target areas of high deprivation in such a manner.”

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