The terminals allow players to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds and the latest data from the social research institute NatCen suggests that their prevalence has caused an alarming increase in the number of ‘problem gamblers’ from 280,000 in 2012 to 430,000 in 2015.
Lambeth has over 50 betting shops and over 200 FOBTs in the borough, the bulk of which are clustered in areas of deprivation. The 2014 Lambeth Healthy High Streets Commission used research by Landman Economics to estimate that each betting shop in Lambeth with FOBTs creates a net loss of 2.5 jobs.
The Landman report found that while £1bn of “average” consumer expenditure supports around 20,000 jobs across the UK as a whole, £1bn of expenditure on FOBTs supports only 7,000 jobs in the UK.
An official review of the machines was launched by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport at the end of last year.
Cllr Mo Seedat, Cabinet Member for Healthier & Stronger Communities, responded to the review on behalf of Lambeth Council, outlining the economic and social costs of the terminals, which he says have been proven to suck both money and jobs out of the local economy.
Along with the Local Government Association, campaign groups, 93 other local authorities and a cross-party group of MPs, Lambeth has urged the Government to cut the maximum stake to no more than £2.
Cllr Seedat said: “A £2 maximum stake is necessary because of the highly addictive nature of the activity and the speed at which bets can be made and money lost. A reduced stake of £2 would considerably slow down losses for individuals, whilst enabling the industry to still generate considerable profits.”
Lambeth’s submission calls for the Government to give local authorities much greater power to curb the spread of betting shops and gaming machines like FOBTs. The council should be empowered to use the planning system to place greater restrictions on new outlets and to tackle the over-supply of betting shops in our town centres. Cllr Seedat has also called on the Government to amend the Gambling Act 2005 to give councils the power to determine the number of FOBTs permitted per shop.
He said: “The massive increase in the number of premises and FOBTs since the Act was introduced has underlined not just the economic cost, but the social and health impacts of problem gambling, which acts to deepen poverty and social disadvantage and disproportionately affects those on low incomes. It is local authorities, who are closest to the problem and have a better understanding of the needs of their local communities, who are best placed to act, which is why Lambeth is urging the Government to change the law to empower councils to respond decisively. ”
The consultation on proposals for changes to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures closed on 23 January. You can read Lambeth’s submission here.