Some of the poorest communities across Teesside continue to be deliberately targeted by betting firms placing Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), Alex Cunningham has warned, and this is having disastrous consequences for individuals and families.
Stockton North’s Member of Parliament has long condemned these practices and, during a recent Question session with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the House of Commons, the Labour MP asked the Secretary of State:
“We are more likely to find high-stakes fixed odds betting terminals in deprived areas of urban constituencies such as mine than in the leafy towns of Suffolk, so it is betting shop staff in places such as Stockton and Billingham who will have to consider giving permission to punters who want to place stakes of greater than £50 a time. Will the Minister explain how the Government decided on the sum of £50, the criteria that they would have betting staff use when deciding whether to grant permission, and how the system will be monitored and enforced?
However, in responding, the Minister was unable to elaborate on the rationale underpinning the Government’s decision earlier this year to introduce a £50 threshold above which permission must be sought from betting shop staff.
Following the session, Alex said:
“While I was disappointed with the Minister’s response, I was far from surprised. Only 7 per cent of plays on FOBTs are between £50-100, so such a move will only ever effect a small minority of plays. The onus must now be on the Government to publish the evidence base used when calculating the £50 ceiling instead of a much lower level that could help discourage problematic gambling.
“At the same time, if the Government is intent on increasing interactions with staff, more must be done to ensure staff safety by ending single staffing in betting shops with FOBTs.
“But the most worrying aspect of the current situation is the lack of action taken by the Government to prevent the targeting of these machines. Figures indicate there are 132 terminals across the Stockton Borough, while wealthier constituencies such as Broadland in Norfolk have as few as four.
“This clustering of bookmakers offering access to these machines is causing enormous harm to our communities and it is utterly immoral that firms are able to target areas of high deprivation in such a manner. We need to take action to stop the damaging effect these terminals are having on our local communities, and the time has come to empower local authorities to take action in response to local concerns about high stakes, high speed and high cost gambling.”