BETTING machines that allow punters to gamble £100 every 20 seconds have had ‘disastrous consequences’ in East Lancashire, an MP claimed yesterday.
Leading a debate in Parliament, Hyndburn and Haslingden MP Graham Jones said the issue of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which feature virtual casino and racing games, was of ‘growing concern’ to local residents.
Mr Jones said: “The availability of this form of gambling on the high street has had disastrous consequences in Lancashire.
“In my constituency, Hyndburn, nearly £1.8m was lost on FOBTs alone in 2012 from just 13 betting shops.
“My regional newspaper, the Lancashire Telegraph, has published numerous articles on the problems of FOBTs in East Lancashire over the past 14 months.
“Early last year, their concern led to a front page article titled ‘East Lancashire punters spent more than £270m on gambling machines in 2012’.
“They also carried a story about one gambling addict, Michael Waring, who revealed how he squanders hundreds of pounds in benefits on the virtual roulette mach-ines.”
Mr Jones denied suggestions the number of gambling addicts had fallen since the introduction of the betting machines, which have been dubbed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’, as found by the English Health Survey.
He said: “We have to look at all the evidence, as well as adopting the precautionary principle. However, we also have to take into account the other surveys which contrast with that.”
Mr Jones also accused bookmakers of targeting poor areas and proliferating the high streets of deprived areas.
He added: “In Hyndburn, there are 48 FOBTs, but in the affluent Ribble Valley, an area with twice the average income and many times more wealthy, there are just 18.
“In Blackburn there are 73, whilst in affluent Wyre there are just 29.
“As a demographic, poor people are more likely to start gambling than any other, but it is the demographic that can least afford to lose, and the bookmakers aggresively market the most addictive gambling products to them.”