Two Bradford MPs have clashed with anti-gambling campaigners calling for a crackdown on addictive high-stakes betting machines.
Both Gerry Sutcliffe (Lab, Bradford South) and Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) are under fire after a Commons debate on the spread of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling criticised the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) – a group of which Mr Sutcliffe is a trustee – of failing to take the problem seriously.
And it attacked Mr Davies for rejecting claims that problem gambling was on the rise, linked to bookmakers installing many more FOBTs.
But Mr Sutcliffe hit back, agreeing FOBTs could be a “problem”, but insisting proper evidence was required before rules could be tightened.
The Labour MP also accused campaigners of inflating figures for the amount of money that was being lost by users of the machines.
Mr Davies declined to comment, but has previously described the calls for a crackdown as “ridiculous” and based on a series of “myths”.
Bradford is among a growing number of local authorities warning they are powerless to prevent the spread of FOBTs, once dubbed the “crack cocaine” of gambling.
Punters are able to bet £300 every minute on the video machines, which offer virtual versions of casino games such as roulette.
Figures released last year suggested a staggering £400m was gambled in a single year across the Bradford area – which has 371 FOBTs, in 102 betting shops.
Derek Webb, the campaign’s founder, said: “Mr Sutcliffe questioned why the campaign does not focus on other gambling issues.
“FOBTs – the most significant gambling issue – is the easiest to immediately resolve. He must be unaware that FOBTs are now the high street equivalent of 23 very-super-casinos.”
During the recent debate, Mr Davies said: “FOBTs are in decline. According to the Gambling Commission, four per cent of adults played them in 2010 and the figure dropped to 3.4 per cent in 2011-12.
“And, in 2013, all bookmakers reported a decline in the gross win from FOBTs.”
Labour wants local authorities to be given the power to reduce the number of FOBTs in betting shops, if local people protest.
It also plans to cut the maximum stake from £100 to £2, reduce the £500 top prize and increase the time between ‘plays’, requiring pop-ups and breaks.
Mr Davies is one of four MPs who have signed an Early Day Motion saying Parliament should be concerned by the campaign which is being waged against FOBTs in bookmakers’ shops and against bookmakers themselves.
The motion says bookmakers site their shops in affordable, populated areas, as do owners of many shops, and do not target areas of deprivation.
It adds that, far from proliferating, the number of betting shops has halved from its peak number.