Thousands losing more than £1,000 a year on fixed odds betting terminals in Norwich
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013
The stark financial impact of machines dubbed the 'crack cocaine' of gambling has been laid bare in a report suggesting thousands of gamblers are losing more than £1,000 a year - with many losing much more.
MP Simon Wright, who has been calling for reform, said the 'disturbing' figures from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, came with plenty of evidence about the harm caused by addictive gambling through fixed odds betting terminals. Campaigners are calling for the stake on the machine, which currently allows people to bet £100 every 20 seconds, to be reduced to £2.
The figures estimate 3,610 people lose £1,015 on average in a year in Norwich - more than £4.5 million in total in just the city. Gambling charities suggest the impact of machines is much more widespread than just those who are addicted, with studies showing that for each problem gambler, between five and 15 members of their family and friends are affected, either through their financial losses or the destructive behaviour that is the product of their addiction.
The estimated figures for the number of people affected have been complied by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, using the latest Gambling Commission annual report, census data and measures of deprivation.
Ron Turrell, a GamCare councillor at East Anglian addiction charity Phoenix + Norcas, said that while he only saw a tiny fraction of the gamblers out there, a high proportion of those he helped were addicted to fixed odds betting terminals, with many losing thousands of pounds.
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'It very much depends on the person's ability to obtain money to gamble on the machines. I hear stories of people losing literally thousands of pounds on it, so that average sounds a bit on the low side I would have thought.'
Mr Wright said: 'While these figures are estimates, they are nonetheless disturbing. The average FOBT player in Norwich has an estimated loss of over £1,000 a year, suggesting that the city could be one of the worst parts of the region to be a player of these machines.
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'There is plenty of evidence from gamblers themselves about the harm caused by addictive gambling through fixed odds betting terminals. In parliament, I've called on ministers to make sure that the experiences of gamblers are taken into account as part of the review that we're expecting to report back this spring. 'I support a precautionary approach, including reducing the maximum stakes on terminals from £100 to £2 as suggested by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. This would help to prevent the real harm that's being caused.'
But the party has accused the gambling industry of exploiting those changes to target poorer parts of the country, The government has said the growth of the machines is 'concerning' and culture minister Helen Grant expects the industry to introduce voluntary player protection measures, such as suspensions in play and automatic alerts when stakes hit a certain level, by March.
The gambling industry says it has introduced a code of conduct for player protection and responsible gaming. In a response to a debate earlier this year on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, the Association of British Bookmakers said: 'We accept there are concerns about these gaming machines and are always open to a constructive dialogue with politicians about the appropriate powers for local authorities.'
Gambling addict David Armstrong banned himself from every betting shop in Norwich and East Anglia in 2012, after he lost £100,000 in four years on the controversial fixed odds betting terminals.
Mr Armstrong said at the time that the addiction had cost him his partner and he had amassed huge debts that he paid off by raising money on the equity of his house.
The retired car salesman said his addiction to the machines had 'ruined' his life and warned other vulnerable people, especially youngsters, that what starts off as a little fun can easily turn into an out-of-control monster.
He had never gambled until four years before he banned himself two years ago.
He went into a bookmakers in Anglia Square in Norwich, and during the next year he started to spend an hour every evening on the machines and soon became addicted.
He tried counselling, hypnosis and finally self-excluded
himself from all Norwich betting shops, but would still travel to other towns in East Anglia to play.
Finally, he banned himself
from all betting shops in the region.