£16.5m lost in Redbridge last year on machines dubbed ‘crack cocaine of gambling’

Fixed-odds betting terminals are coming under fire. Picture: Press Association

Fixed-odds betting terminals are coming under fire. Picture: Press Association - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Gamblers in Redbridge lost £16.5m on machines labelled the “crack cocaine of gambling” last year, new statistics show.

An estimated 8,796 people use fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) found in high-street bookies, meaning they lost an average of £1,877 each in 2013.

In total, £86.9m was spent on the machines, which have been blamed for the “cluster” of shops in the high street due to regulations only allowing four terminals in each branch.

The figures were revealed by Local Works, whose Campaign for Fairer Gambling aims to stop the spread of bookies by putting the businesses in their own planning classification.

As it stands they can move into premises without requiring planning permission, and current law states councils must “aim to permit” new betting shops.

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Redbridge Council is one of 62 local authorities to back the campaign, having also written to government in November demanding tighter control over betting shops.

Cabinet member for public protection, Cllr Ruth Clark, said: “They target the poor areas and due to the restrictions on the nnmber of these fixed-odds machines they just open up a new shop.”

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She added that the problem with fixed-odds terminals was “more serious” than normal gambling: “It is possible to lose £300 per minute on these terminals.”

The borough currently has 72 betting shops with an estimated 266 FOBTs, which bring popular high-speed casino games to the high-street.

Punters are able to stake up to £300 every minute on the machines, which have been compared to crack cocaine because of their addictive nature.

Now, David Cameron looks set to introduce tougher regulation surrounding the terminals.

Penalties could be introduced for bookmakers if they fail to enforce new limits on playing times and betting losses, while pop-up alerts which flash on screens when a customer has spent £250 or played for 30 minutes could also be brought in.

A Local Works spokesman said: “The clustering of betting shops – particularly in poorer areas – has become a significant problem for many communities in recent years.”

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