Fixed odds betting terminals ‘should be banned in bookmakers’

File picture: Ian Georgeson
File picture: Ian Georgeson
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A CONTROVERSIAL form of hard gambling which can see players lose hundreds of pounds in minutes should be banned in bookmakers, MSPs said today.

The Scottish Parliament’s local government committee said fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – known as the “crack cocaine of gambling” – were so harmful they should be outlawed from the high street.

During its inquiry into FOBTs, the committee heard evidence that suggested there are around 1900 of the machines in licensed betting premises in Scotland, including 421 in Edinburgh.

The touchscreen terminals offer scores of games – most commonly roulette, but also bingo, simulated horse and greyhound racing and a range of slot machine games – and allow gamblers to place stakes of up to £100 every 20 seconds.

Committee convener and SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: “Our committee has been shocked by some of the evidence it has received about FOBT machines. We have heard how quickly and easily players can become addicted and lose hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds.

“The casino industry told us these machines are a form of hard gambling and unsuitable for the unsupervised environment of a bookmaker’s shop.”

The Scotland Bill currently going through Westminster will give Holyrood powers to limit the number of terminals allowed under betting licences on new shops, but not to reduce the number on existing licenses.

FOBTs were introduced in licensed betting premises in 2001. Up to four machines can be permitted under a betting premises licence.

The committee concluded that, given the high number of existing FOBTs in bookmakers, the Bill would not give the Scottish Parliament effective powers to tackle the issue.

Mr Stewart said they had heard evidence about the clustering of bookmakers in some communities and local authorities had said they felt powerless to do anything to restrict the number of bookmakers.

He said: “This is why we believe the planning rules have to be changed to give local authorities more control and the ability to address this clustering.

“The Scotland Bill proposals stem from a concern about the harmful effects of FOBTs but the Bill would not give the Scottish Parliament any real and effective powers to tackle these. The Bill simply does not go far enough.

“We believe that the maximum stake of £100 per game and ability to play three games per minute mean FOBTs are a form of hard gambling and must, therefore, be banned from the high street.”

A report last year found Scots frittered away at least £4.1 billion on slot machines in one year – the equivalent of £820 per person. The average spend in Edinburgh per person was £916 and £1187 in Livingston in 2011-12.

The committee urged the UK and Scottish governments to commission independent research into the effects of playing FOBTs.