BY the time you read this sentence punters in Hartlepool will have spent £50 on betting machines which have been dubbed the crack cocaine of gambling.
Today, we reveal the shocking scourge which is hitting the town where on average £5 a second is being frittered away in the addictive casino-style slot machines.
Staggering figures show that more than £82.5m was wagered on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in bookies in the last 12 months – a rise of £4m on the previous year and despite desperate pleas for the machines to be more tightly controlled.
The figure equates to an average of £226,000 being gambled every day on 74 machines in Hartlepool’s 20 betting shops.
Based on betting shops being open 12 hours a day, it averages around £18,000 being spent in an hour and £314 in a minute.
Gamblers are losing a whopping £2.9m a year in the town, up from £2.4m the previous year.
That is despite Hartlepool being ranked the 29th most deprived local authority borough in the UK.
Today, the Mail calls for a ban on the machines where gamblers can risk up to £100 on every 20-second spin on virtual casino-style games such as roulette, blackjack and poker.
And town MP Iain Wright says he has major worries that the machines are “leeching off the poor”.
He told the Mail: “Gambling is a recreational activity enjoyed by many. Having a bet on the horses, dogs or football, or even enjoying an electronic game of roulette, are enjoyed by many in a socially responsible way.
“However, the nature of fixed odds betting terminals, often termed the crack cocaine of gambling, is a major concern.
“Gamblers can lose hundreds of pounds in a matter of moments without any checks.
“For a town like Hartlepool, where many people are struggling with the cost of living crisis, I’m really concerned that these machines are leeching off the poor.”
In January, Parliament voted against a move by Labour to give more power to local councils to limit the spread of FOBTs and lengthen the time of each game so that money could not be lost as quickly.
Mr Wright added: “I would like to see a political consensus over the better control of these machines.”
The staggering figures for 2013 were revealed by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling which wants the maximum stake on FOBTs cut to £2 a spin.
The figures show £82,596,507 was staked on the machines in Hartlepool last year.
That was compared to £78m poured into the terminals between April 2011 and March 2012.
Debt experts at Hartlepool Citizens Advice Bureau say they are worried at the high amounts being risked and the problems gambling can cause.
Manager Joe Michna said: “From the information provided the high figures related to fixed odds betting terminals are cause for concern.
“We have a number of clients at the moment we are dealing with debt and have racked up a substantial amount of debt because of excessive gambling.
“In one case it is to do with these machines.
“The concern is if people are gambling excessively it can lead to various other problems such as relationship difficulties and their mental health.”
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has produced an interactive map on its website so that people can see the spread of betting shops in their town.
Consultant Adrian Parkinson, who previously helped bring the machines to betting shops, but now campaigns against them, said: “The mapping and data estimates indicate the FOBT landscape drastically changed last year with an apparent surge in betting shop licences and a predicted growth to over £1.6bn in FOBT player losses.
“Our mapping now gives councils and councillors the opportunity to look at the impact across their boroughs and communities.
“It will help them to see through the smoke screen the bookmakers are trying to create with their new Code of Conduct.”