'Victory for all those whose lives have been blighted by these toxic machines'
The mayor of Newham, the 25th most deprived local authority area in Britain, has welcomed the news that FOBT stakes are to be cut to a maximum £2 from £100.
The London borough supports 81 betting shops, with 12 on one street alone, and its council has led a long campaign for FOBT stake reduction. This included submitted the largest-ever Sustainable Communities Act proposal, backed by 92 other councils, calling for a stake reduction to £2.
Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said: “I am proud that as a council Newham has been at the forefront of the campaign to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. The [gambling] industry has brought this upon itself by targeting the most deprived areas in the country.
“The Institute of Public Policy Research has shown that problem gambling costs our country as much as £1.16 billion a year, but this figure doesn’t even begin to touch upon the human misery these ‘crack cocaine’ betting machines create. This decision is long overdue.”
Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, also welcomed the news.
“FOBTs have caused so much social harm and huge losses for those who can least afford it,” she said. “Last year there were more than 230,000 individual sessions in which a user lost more than £1,000. These machines have increased the risk of problem gambling which carries a huge social and economic cost.
“This was morally the right decision to make and it is victory for all those people whose lives have for far too long been blighted by these toxic machines.”
Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “This announcement is fantastic news and a sensible decision to help tackle the harm these machines can cause.
“The harm and anti-social behaviour these machines can cause has become an issue of growing national concern, while research has shown that problem gambling, often linked to FOBTs, creates huge costs for the NHS, councils and the criminal justice system.
“It is right that government has listened to these concerns and we urge it to introduce the new £2 limit as soon as possible.”
Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said: “We’re pleased government has supported a comprehensive package of measures to protect consumers, and that this includes a substantial stake cut. Whilst we welcome the reduced stake, that alone will not be enough to address the risks of harm that can come from all forms of gambling.
“That is why we will continue to act in other ways to reduce those risks – including delivering enhanced consumer protection for online gambling in the areas of customer verification, fairness and interaction, implementing strong penalties for businesses who breach advertising guidelines, and reviewing gambling product characteristics to identify whether particular features pose greater risk of harm than others.”
Matt Zarb-Cousin, of the Campaign For Fairer Gambling, said: “What we need to do if we are going to determine policy is to look at the level of harm associated with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Only one to two per cent of the population play them, but it will make these machines less harmful.”
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