Culture minister Hugh Robertson rules out a crackdown on fixed odds betting terminals, saying there is a lack of evidence to support a link with problem gambling
Culture minister Hugh Robertson has ruled out a crackdown on controversial betting shop roulette machines which have transformed most of Britain’s high street bookmakers into hybrid casinos.
While he accepted that “common sense suggests that [problem gambling linked to betting shop machines] is a major problem”, he added “there is a lack of evidence to back that up”.
His comments come almost a decade after then culture secretary Tessa Jowell declared that the machines – then a new innovation, exploiting a regulatory loophole to offer £500 jackpots instead of the £25 top payout on a fruit machine – were “on probation”.
Robertson said he hoped that “a major research project” to be carried out by the industry-funded Responsible Gambling Trust would deliver definitive evidence needed to justify government intervention. “Once the problem is proved to exist, the government will act,” he said.
Britain’s biggest bookmaker William Hill already makes takes more in winnings through the 9,000 betting machines in its shops than it does through all other forms of traditional sports betting combined.
Ladbrokes, which has more than 8,000 slot machines, sees £10bn staked on machines in its shops a year — and the touch-screen games remain one of the fastest growing products its shops.
Some Labour MPs have complained that clusters of betting shops, highlighted by the Guardian last week, in their constituencies have created an acute problem because of the controversial slot machines.
Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central, said: “There are mind-numbing numbers of betting shops in places like Moston in my constituency. I think it is a moral question to ask whether it is a good thing that betting companies are targeting the poor and whether government lets them.”
Shares in William Hill and Ladbrokes both made modest gains on Friday. Dirk Vennix, chief executive at the Association of British Bookmakers, told BBC 5 Live the vast majority of punters gambled safely and responsibly. “They are adults who think about what they spend and how much they can lose – they are not stupid.”