Too high a price for just a flutter?

Coun John Jones

Coun John Jones

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THEY are described as the “crack cocaine of gambling” and allow punters to splurge up to £100 every 20 seconds, David Sharman investigates the draw of gaming machines.

MORE than £160m has been gambled on betting machines in Blackpool over the past year, a new report has claimed.

Estimates released by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling allege £163m has been wagered on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) at 43 different bookmakers across the resort.

And one councillor has even described the machines as “morally wrong”.

The FOBTs include electronic games such as roulette and blackjack, and allow gamers to spend up to £100 every 20 seconds.

They have been described as the “crack cocaine of gambling” by the report’s author Adrian Parkinson, who told The Gazette “the nature” of Blackpool was the reason for the high amount being chanced.

He said: “With Blackpool being a holiday destination you would imagine there’s quite a bit more gambling which goes on so there would be a higher amount.”

There are currently 156 FOBTs in Blackpool.

The report estimates £113m was gambled across the Blackpool South parliamentary constituency last year.

Coun John Jones, who represents Bloomfield ward on Blackpool Council, has campaigned for stricter restrictions on gambling across the resort.

He said: “I have doubts whether these machines should be allowed to be in betting shops.

“I know it’s lawful but whether they should be in there morally is another matter.

“People go in (to bookmakers) on low incomes thinking they’re going to make some money.

“It’s morally wrong to have these machines particularly when we’re heading into another recession and people are struggling because they’re having their benefits cut.

“People are looking at making a quick pound by gambling.”

The estimates take into account not just physical cash spent by players, but also credit staked on any winnings.

In MP Paul Maynard’s constituency of Blackpool North and Cleveleys, £49m was wagered on the machines in the last year.

He said: “The problem is not so much the amount of gambling occurring, but rather the effect of limits on the terminals leading to more bookmakers being located in the town centre.

“(FOBTs) are limited under the 2005 Gaming Act to just four per shop. Because of that, there is an incentive for the shops to cluster.

“You can have eight machines if you have two shops in close proximity, for example, but you can’t have eight in one shop.

“Bookmakers don’t require ‘change of use’ planning permission either, hence the speed with which they are appearing in so many areas.”

The Association of British Bookmakers has disputed the statistics, claiming the real amount being wagered is just three per cent of those claimed.

A spokesman said: “The gambling prevalence survey, published by the Gambling Commission, has shown consistently for over 10 years that the number of problem gamblers is fewer than one per cent of the population and that fixed odds betting terminals are one of the lowest used gambling products.”