Hartlepool MP calls for action to curb ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling

Iain Wright
Iain Wright

HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright is supporting efforts to tackle the spread of high-stakes gambling machines dubbed the “crack cocaine” of betting.

MPs will vote today on measures to curb the use of fixed odds betting terminals (FOTBs) on which punters can stake up to £100 every 20 seconds attracted by payouts of up to £500.

The motion has been brought by the Labour party which claims the machines are turning bookies into mini casinos.

Last year, the Mail reported how Hartlepool gamblers staked an estimated £78m on the fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) between April 2011 and March 2012.

The bookies made an estimated £2,493,475.

Mr Wright said: “I used to work in a bookmakers as a holiday job when I was at university and I don’t believe in banning betting or being a killjoy.

“I think it can be fun and enjoyable for a great many people.

“But the manner in which these fixed odds betting terminals hook people in and the way you can spend an awful lot of money almost without realising is a concern.

“At a time when people might be gambling as a means to get out of poverty with the odds stacked very much against them, this should be discouraged as much as possible.

“I think our approach to try to curb some of the more excessive behaviour is to be welcomed.”

Under Labour’s proposals councils would be given powers to use planning controls to limit the number of bookmakers allowed to open in an area and authorities would also be allowed to restrict the number of terminals or ban them altogether from premises.

The party hopes to win backing from Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs concerned about the issue.

Labour’s shadow sport minister Clive Efford added: “Labour is calling a vote in Parliament to give local people the power to pull the plug on these gambling machines.”

Bookmakers are allowed up to four of the machines in each branch, but Labour claims they get around the regulations by opening more branches.

But Gambling Minister Helen Grant said: “This Government is undertaking the biggest ever study into the effect of these machines and have made clear that we will not hesitate to take action if the evidence points in that direction.”