Action Urged On Betting Machines

20 June 2014, 09:50

Gamblers in Scotland's biggest city are spending more than £200 million on controversial fixed odds betting terminals every year, an investigation has revealed.

More than £500,000 is ploughed into around 800 machines in just over 200 betting shops in Glasgow every day, the city council study found.

Punters typically stake more than £12 on each spin on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) which are used to play roulette and other games.

Glasgow City Council's cross-party sounding board study is believed to be the first in Britain to attempt to gauge the impact high-speed, high-stake gambling machines have on a city and its communities.

It stops short of calling for FOBTs to be banned but recommends a new approach to regulating gaming and urges regulators to commission detailed independent research to establish the impact of allowing casino-style gambling on the high street.

Councillor Paul Rooney, chair of the cross-party sounding board and Glasgow's city treasurer, said: "I'm not against gambling, but the industry is regulated for a reason - to ensure that when gambling takes place in our communities it is within a safe, sustainable and responsible environment.

"In the case of fixed odds betting terminals, that principle has failed.

"More than a dozen years after machines appeared on our high streets, neither the industry nor its regulators are able to identify to what extent - if any - the intense speed of play, the ability to win large prizes with relatively low stakes, and the opportunity to increase stakes rapidly influences problem gambling.

"In the meantime, Glasgow has become home to more than 200 street-corner casinos, without our communities ever having had the opportunity to consider whether they want them.''

Punters in Glasgow lose around £31 million each year, with bookies taking around £1.5 billion from FOBTs across Britain - more than from horse racing, dog racing and football betting combined, the study found.

The machines were introduced to Britain, unregulated, early in the 21st century and eventually classified as category B2 gambling terminals in 2005, when ministers introduced a limit of four terminals per premises.

FOBT games do not give gamblers the opportunity to apply any degree of skill in their play, with wins and losses resting entirely on chance.

Mr Rooney said:  "Glaswegians are gambling £200 million on FOBTs, losing £31 million, and the city is paying a huge price financially, socially and in terms of the health of thousands of people at risk of developing gambling problems.

"There is an urgent need for regulation to catch up with the market, which has grown at an incredible pace, and start dealing with these issues.''

He added: "Here in Glasgow, we want Scottish ministers to give us the same power that councils in England and Wales will soon have to use the planning system to halt the clustering of betting shops in high streets and town centres.

"And the industry needs to take some very big and potentially difficult decisions if it expects its self exclusion policies to be taken seriously.''

The cross-party sounding board was convened in April after councillors backed a call from Mr Rooney to investigate the use of FOBTs in Glasgow.

The report will go before councillors next week.