Labour’s former culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, has admitted that the Gambling Act 2005 she introduced whilst in Government failed in its attempt to prevent some of the social harms often attributed to gambling, particularly the potential “crack cocaine” addiction syndrome caused by fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT).
Baroness Jowell was in post when FOBTs were introduced into high street betting shops in 2001, and oversaw the implementation of the Gambling Act legislation in 2005. Under the Act, the Gambling Commission was given the authority to regulate betting including FOBTs with an aim to curb potential social harms.
Writing in The Times, Jowell stated: “Protecting the public from the harm that gambling can do was one of the overriding purposes of the Gambling Act 2005. That is why the Gambling Commission was given power to regulate FOBT machines.
“I made it clear that they were on probation and should be removed in the face of evidence of harm gathered by the commission; the number of machines, speed of play and size of stake were all within its regulatory power.”
The betting shop terminals allow users to stake £100 a time on games including blackjack, roulette and poker, and have a very quick win or lose outcome, meaning that punters can sustain substantial losses in a short period of time.
Figures obtained by campaign group Fairer Gambling show that Ladbrokes now make more than £1,000 a week per machine, up 9% in one year. Paddy Power and Coral have similarly seen profits rise due to an increase in the numbers of gamblers using the terminals.
The Liberal Democrats and lobbying groups are currently campaigning for the maximum stake on FOBTs to be cut all the way down from £100 to £2. The party's culture spokesman, Lord Clement-Jones, has put forward a Bill to this end, which will have its second reading in the coming weeks.
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