PUNTERS staked more than £140m on casino game slot machines in bookies across Hartlepool and East Durham in just 12 months, according to new figures.
In Hartlepool gamblers poured an estimated £78m into fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops.
And in the Easington constituency, which has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, punters staked an estimated £62m on the machines which offer virtual versions of casino games like roulette.
But the figures have come under fire from bookmakers, who stress 97 per cent of cash staked – more than £136m – is paid back to punters, with just £4.4m kept as profit.
The shock figures were released by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which calls the high-stakes games the “crack cocaine” of gambling.
Punters can stake up to £100 in 20 seconds on the machines.
Hartlepool Citizens Advice Bureau says it helps people who have got into debt because of the gambling machines at the expense of household bills.
According to the campaign’s research an estimated £78,411,148 was staked on 73 casino game terminals in 20 betting shops across the town.
The bookmakers made an estimated £2,493,475 from the machines between April 2011 and March 2012.
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling also estimates £498,695 profit came from problem gamblers.
In Easington, £62,711.709 was staked on 58 of the touch-screen machines in 16 shops, making £1,994,232 for bookmakers.
Adrian Parkinson, from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “The high stakes and speed of play have led to the machines being called the crack cocaine of gambling, and the Gambling Act 2005 limits each betting shop to four FOBTs.”
He added: “We are campaigning for much tighter restrictions on these machines.”
They are calling for the casino games to be removed from high street bookies and the stake slashed from £100 to £2.
In the Stockton North parliamentary constituency, which covers Billingham, Wolviston and parts of Wynyard, an estimated £98m was staked on the machines making just under £3.1m for the bookmakers.
In Sedgefield, the total amount risked was £62.8m, giving just under £2m profit.
Government regulators the Gambling Commission say there are “legitimate concerns” about the harm caused by the betting terminals, but adds more work is needed to understand and minimise the risks.
A spokesman said: “The commission has asked the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) to see what more can be done to better understand the risks posed and that work is now underway through the Responsible Gambling Trust.
“In the meantime, licensed betting operators are required to offer a range of social responsibility measures as part of their Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP).
“These include operating schemes for gamblers to exclude themselves from premises, having policies to interact with gamblers with a gambling problem and offering information to guide vulnerable people to help and support.”