LABOUR slammed the government yesterday for sweeping aside the growing problem of highly addictive gambling by choosing to launch another consultation instead of imposing a cap on maximum stakes.
Currently, punters using fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) can pay up to £100 every 20 seconds, theoretically making it possible to fritter away £18,000 an hour on the high-speed casino game machines. The Association of British Bookmakers, which represents the gambling industry, says £1.8 billion was made from FOBTs last year.
But as the government published its gambling review yesterday, which included increased protection for online gamblers, a new responsible gambling campaign and advertising guidelines, Culture Minister Tracey Crouch announced a 12-week consultation into limiting maximum stakes to £50, £30, £20 or £2.
The move was described as “deeply disappointing” by shadow culture secretary and Labour deputy leader Tom Watson.
Mr Watson told MPs 430,000 people were addicted to gambling, with a further two million “problem gamblers at risk of developing an addiction.” FOBTs are the only betting machines on the high street that take stakes of more than £2.
“Ministers have squandered a real opportunity to curb highly addictive FOBTs, which can cause real harm to individuals, their families and local communities,” he said.
“After months of delays they’ve simply decided to have another consultation.”
Labour would cap the max
imum stake to £2 and ban gambling adverts on football shirts, Mr Watson added.
Mr Watson told Ms Crouch that lobbyists for the gambling industry were “grinning ear to ear” over the delay in imposing a cap.
Labour MP David Lammy had tweeted earlier in the day that the government should not be swayed by the amount the Treasury rakes in from machine gaming duty — more than £700 million last year.
Campaign group Justice4Punters founder Brian Chappell said that the gambling industry has been delaying the review into FOBTs since 2013.
Former addict Martin Paterson, from Coatbridge, near Glasgow, said that the machines left him “a broken man” after he lost thousands of pounds since 2005.
He was gambling £60 in the space of 20 minutes at the height of his addiction. He has fully recovered but said the government choosing anything higher than £2 stakes with a gap of at least 60 seconds between goes would be “catastrophic.”