New figures reveal a “staggering” £392m was gambled on high-stake gaming machines in the Bradford area in the space of just one year.
A report released exclusively to the Telegraph & Argus by the Fairer Gambling organisation reveals there are 371 so-called Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in 102 betting shops in Bradford and surrounding constituencies.
The highest figures, in the Bradford West constituency, provoked a stunned response from the area’s Respect MP, George Galloway, who said bookmakers were “shrewd operators” who deliberately preyed on the vulnerable.
He said: “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.”
Bradford East MP David Ward (Lib Dem) said figures from his constituency were “staggering” and he was concerned that it seemed to be the people who can least afford to lose money who are gambling it.
“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.”
Bradford South Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe said he was concerned by the figures but was waiting to see what hard evidence would surface from an 18-month study being commissioned by the Responsibility In Gaming Trust, of which he is an independent member. “I’m obviously concerned about these machines but I want to see the exact impact they are having in scientific detail.”
Shipley MP Philip Davies said: “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.”
Keighley Conservative MP Kris Hopkins said it was up to individuals how they spend their own money but added: “They should take responsibility for making sure basics are put on their families’ tables first before feeding gaming machines.”
Despite punters spending an estimated £392,690,480 on the machines, the profit made by betting shops, known as the gross gambling yield, was just over £12m, according to Fairer Gambling, which gleaned the figures from analysis of industry data.
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 ABB, which represents the major high street names, was unavailable for comment when contacted by the Telegraph & Argus, but is previously reported to have denied there was any proven link between the machines and problem gambling, adding that it made sure the vulnerable were protected.
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 £100 and offer prizes of £500, offering casino games such as roulette. Bradford Chamber of Trade secretary Val Summerscales said there were already more than enough betting shops in the city centre, which were detracting from Bradford’s shopping experience.
She added: “Money being spent in betting shops on those machines is money that could be spent in other shops. Once a retail store closes and becomes a betting shop then it’s gone forever.”
Adrian Parkinson, Campaign Consultant for Fairer Gambling, said: “Our organisation campaigns for tighter restrictions on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals which are present in UK betting shops and we are involved in parliamentary lobbying on this issue and that of betting shop proliferation.”
Mr Parkinson is the former regional machines manager responsible for the introduction of FOBTs onto the high street from 1999 onwards. He was involved in the testing of roulette game content and worked closely with the two major suppliers. He said: “I have used my industry background and knowledge to produce the figures – they are derived from the Gambling Commission Industry Data.”