In December, 2016, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals published the interim findings of its investigation into the effects of FOBTs, and made a number of recommendations.
Over the last few years, heart-breaking story after heart-breaking story has been reported, with gamblers losing their savings, marriages, careers and homes as a result of these addictive machines, where thousands of pounds can be lost in a matter of minutes. According to Stop the FOBTs, over £7m has been lost by people gambling on these machines in Bolton in the twelve months leading up to September 2016, of which over £3.7m was lost in my constituency. The report highlights the need to limit the stake per play on these machines, preferably to a maximum of £2, and also the need to limit the number of FOBTs permitted in individual betting shops.
The problem of FOBTs does not just affect gamblers, it also affects the staff who work in betting shops, and the wider communities in which these machines are situated. Local authorities should have the power to prevent the proliferation of, and control the concentration of FOBTs.
A reduction in the levels of staffing in bookmakers has often left staff alone, vulnerable and in danger. In one reported case, a lone worker was murdered by an irate customer and, in another case, a lone worker was raped and left for dead. These cases highlight the need for higher levels of staffing in betting shops, and for betting shops to ensure that they protect their customers and their staff properly. Derek Webb, from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, told the APPG that these machines were turning bookies into the “most dangerous legalised gambling venues in the developed world.”
A further issue, raised by several of my constituents, is the amount of gambling-related advertising on radio and television. It is perplexing that swearing and nudity is banned before the watershed, as this could make children morally poorer, but it is somehow fine to advertise gambling, which could leave them financially poorer. I have urged the Government to place a 10pm watershed on radio and television advertisements relating to gambling.
I am aware that the Government is currently reviewing the laws surrounding gambling, and this is an ideal opportunity to stop the worst practices of the gambling sector and to protect betting shop staff, gamblers and their families.
I hope that the Government takes that APPG’s report seriously, and tackles this problem head-on by implementing its recommendations.