Heather Bellamy spoke with Dan Boucher, the Director of Parliamentary Affairs for CARE.

Dan Boucher
Dan Boucher

Leading Christian charity CARE has applauded a new Gambling Bill that seeks to significantly reduce the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals. Concerns have grown as it has become increasingly apparent that they account for the most addictive form of gambling with disturbing socially destructive consequences. To find out more Heather Bellamy spoke with Dan Boucher, the Director of Parliamentary Affairs for CARE.

Heather: So first of all, what is a fixed odds betting terminal?

Dan: It is a gambling machine where the rate of play is very fast. It is distinctive because of the very high speed of play and the stakes that are involved with each spin. It is possible to lose a very large amount of money in a very short amount of time.

There was a case recently where somebody has lost £3,500 in the space of an hour on a fixed odds betting terminal. It's really because of the speed of play in combination with the maximum stake of £100 per spin.

It is also the most addictive form of gambling that is out there. It is described consequently as the crack cocaine of gambling. There is increasing public concern about the socially destructive consequences that flow in the wake of the use of these machines. That's been reflected in polling, which demonstrates that 73% of people think having the maximum stake of £100 per spin is just too high and they want it to be reduced. Fifty one per cent of people think it should be reduced to £2, which is precisely what the Lord Clement-Jones Bill proposes to do.

Heather: So what destructive consequences, other than losing a lot of money, are you talking about? Are they social repercussions like crime?

Dan: There are certainly associations between the uses of FOBT machines and money laundering. The prime socially destructive consequence is focused on the effects on the individuals concerned and particularly on their families, as a result of having someone who develops an addiction to gambling and is losing large amounts of money on these machines. The problem gambling affects proportionately not a huge number of people, but in absolute terms, we're talking of hundreds of thousands of people and it can make lives a misery. It can undermine the effectiveness of someone at work because they try and gamble on the quiet; it can destroy relationships because of the amount of family money that is used for gambling purposes and obviously all the consequences of relationship break down on families, which is very sad and unfortunate. In some cases there are suicides from problem gamblers.

Heather: What sort of people use these fixed odds betting terminals?

Dan: If we are talking about fixed odds betting terminals specifically, the interesting thing is that they do tend to be concentrated in poorer areas, so not necessarily people who are wealthy, or people who are in a position to lose a lot of money. They are a form of exploitation that's very much focused on people living in poorer neighbourhoods.

They generate an incredibly large amount of revenue for the gambling industry. If one looks at gambling in the United Kingdom, it really is in relationship to these machines that there is growing public disquiet and a growing sense that the Government now needs to take action to reduce the maximum stake per spin, so that the addictive content on these machines is mitigated and people are protected from the risk that these machines present.

There has been considerable coverage in the press over the last few years expressing concerns about the use of fixed odd betting terminals, but to date the Government haven't taken any tough and robust action in relationship to it. So at CARE we particularly applaud what Lord Clement-Jones, the Liberal Democrat peer has done, with taking this issue on and being the first person to propose a Private Members Bill; a piece of legislation that will actually address this.

We think if his Bill was to become law that it would greatly help to address the problems, because it would go right to the poisonous heart of FOBT machines. By reducing that maximum stake from a £100 to £2, a socially destructive threat that is posed by fixed odd betting terminals would be very greatly mitigated. This is becoming an increasing issue of social concern and is a real social justice issue. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.