UK Official Assails Fixed Odds Betting Terminal

Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) operators were accused of deliberately preying on the vulnerable by George Galloway, the UK's Respect Party official and MP, after the study results were published indicating that around GBP 393 million was gambled on the gaming machines in the Bradford area alone during only one year.

According to the Fairer Gambling report issued in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, the number of FOBTs available in Bradford and surrounding constituencies reached 371 in 102 betting shops.

The Bradford West constituency showed highest figures, provoking Galloway to speak out against the bookmakers calling them 'shrewd operators' who deliberately preyed on the vulnerable: 'They know their territories and Bradford West is targeted because it is one of the most deprived constituencies in the area where people in poverty are so vulnerable that as austerity worsens they are spending more money in desperation on these machines seeking to get as much relief as they can.'

As per the Bradford East MP David Ward of the Liberal Democrats, figures from his constituency are 'staggering' and he is concerned over the notion that the people gambling money are the ones who can least afford to lose any.

'These people are extra vulnerable, in dire circumstances and desperate for extra cash. I think there are times when there should be some restraint by bookmakers, like pub landlords when they refuse to serve someone who has already drunk too much. But I can't see that happening because for bookmakers these people are easy-money,' Ward commented.

A similar view was expressed by Bradford South Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe, who said he was expecting to be presented the hard evidence from an 18-month study commissioned by the Responsibility In Gaming Trust, as he is an independent member of the organization. 'I'm obviously concerned about these machines but I want to see the exact impact they are having in scientific detail,' Sutcliffe concluded.

On the other hand, Shipley MP Philip Davies disagreed with the accusations claiming that: 'It's up to people to do with their money as they see fit and the rate of return from these machines is higher than any other form of gambling. No one wants to see people getting addicted but people can sit in front of their computer 24 hours seven days a week and gamble. I'd say it's better for them to be in a betting shop in a controlled environment where staff are trained to keep an eye for tell-tale signs.'

The Bradford Telegraph reports that Keighley Conservative MP Kris Hopkins shared Daives' standpoint, although he warned: 'They should take responsibility for making sure basics are put on their families' tables first before feeding gaming machines.'

In terms of figures, the profit made by operators on the almost GBP393 million wagered was just over GBP 12 million, Fairer Gaming reports after calculating the Bradford exposure based on the available industry statistics.

"According to a report commissioned for the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), that type of fixed odds machine gives a much higher return of stakes than other forms of betting - meaning between 97 and 98 per cent of money gambled is given back," the newspaper reported. "Under existing regulations, bookies are limited to four such machines per shop, which has led to 'clustering' of shops in some high streets. The machines can accept stakes of up to GBP100 and offer prizes of GBP500, offering casino games such as roulette.'

Speaking for Fairer Gambling, Adrian Parkinson, the former regional machines manager responsible for the introduction of FOBTs onto the high street from 1999 onwards, said: 'Our organisation campaigns for tighter restrictions on FOBTs and we are involved in parliamentary lobbying on this issue and that of betting shop proliferation. I have used my industry background and knowledge to produce the figures - they are derived from the Gambling Commission Industry Data.'

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