Families are being devastated by addiction to fixed-odds betting machines, campaigners say.
Losses can be run up to tens of thousands of pounds and the allure of gaming machines can be hard to break.
Gamblers can ban themselves from bookies so they can’t use the FOBTs but that means recognising there’s a problem.
Even if addicts get that far, they can fall off the wagon and relapse into using the machines.
Campaigners say what makes these machines so addictive is the short period of time – just seconds – it takes to put up a stake of up to £100 and gamble it.
Adrian Parkinson, from Stop the FOBTs, said about 68 per cent of cash made from bookies’ machines comes from FOBTs.
And of that, he says 80 per cent is from the game of roulette.
‘Roulette is potentially dangerous, that’s why it was always confined to casinos,’ Adrian says.
‘If you play a gaming machine it’s a solitary game.
‘The roulette version that runs on FOBTs runs at 20 seconds a spin.
‘That’s the danger, that’s why these machines have come so addictive to people.
‘If they go to casinos they will be identified on the door, and online you can be identified.
‘That’s not the same in a betting shop – that’s why so many problem gamblers find it easy to go to betting shops.
‘They can hide it from family and colleagues, that’s what makes the machines dangerous.’
Adrian, who is a consultant to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling’s Stop the FOBTs crusade, helped introduce the machines to the UK.
But he now wants legislation to cut the maximum stake per play from £100 to just £2.
People who have worked with and know gamblers have told how people have lost up to £30,000 and been forced to get two jobs to pay back debt.
John, who runs Gamblers’ Anonymous in Havant, said when he was gambling his then wife limited him to 40p a day to buy a newspaper.
‘I couldn’t be trusted,’ he said.
‘I followed the advice I was given, I didn’t carry money, as if you’ve got an urge then you can go.’
He said when he was gambling he used to go to casinos – but now it is much easier to gamble.
‘These FOBTs seem to be prevalent with people coming through their door and it’s quite scary,’ he added.
‘They destroy families, it’s frighteningly quick how they take your money.
‘Most people who come through, they will be at the mercy of the FOBTs.’
He sees gambling addiction as a mental health problem, and has managed to not place a bet for 10 years.
He added: ‘For getting well from gambling the only way I know is go to Gamblers’ Anonymous, it’s tried and tested.
‘It’s easy for us to run away and use gambling as an escape.
‘There’s been a lot of successes over the time I’ve been going to Gamblers’ Anonymous, a lot of people have turned their lives around but sadly some don’t.’
John also works with the Rector of Havant, Canon Tom Kennar.
Both were opposed to the creation of a gaming centre at the former White Hart pub in Havant.
Mr Kennar said: ‘Day after day, as a church community, we’re working with people who have simply been tempted by those machines all over the area.
‘It has a devastating effect on them, their self-esteem, on their families, their abilities to take the family on holiday or for a nice meal occasionally: it completely ruins families.’
A group of MPs is currently holding an inquiry into the effects of FOBTs.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for FOBTs wants evidence before the deadline on August 31.
MPs have already heard from addicted gamblers who told them of the dangers.
Stuart McDonald MP, the vice-chairman of the group, said: ‘This inquiry will enable us to take a fresh look at the impact of FOBTs on our communities in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
‘The government has a duty of care to protect the vulnerable.’
What are FOBTs?
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), are touchscreen gaming machines found in betting shops across Britain.
Gamblers can play casino-style games with £100 maximum bet per spin.
FOBTs first appeared in betting shops in 1999, and their numbers increased significantly after October 2001, as a result of tax changes that made lower margin games, such as roulette, profitable for machine owners.
Initially, FOBTs were not classed as ‘gaming machines’, meaning they were largely unregulated.
There were no limits on where they could be placed and in what numbers.
This changed in 2005 under the Gambling Act which classified FOBTs as B2 gaming machines.
As a result up to four machines are allowed within a single bookies.
They have been described as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling due to their high-risk and high-speed nature.
WHERE TO GET HELP
EXPERTS say identifying triggers can help prevent gambling addiction.
Lack of money, having lots of free time and getting bored, easy access to gambling places and both low and high moods can all trigger gambling. Groups suggest not carrying cash, handing control over personal finances to a friend or relative and setting up automatic payments for bills and savings accounts.
Handing over control of cash can also lead to problems if an addict then borrows money from friends or family.
People suffering with addiction can get help here:
St Faith’s Church House, The Pallant, Havant, from 7.30pm every Tuesday.
Buckland Community Centre, Malins Road, Portsmouth, from 7.45pm every Thursday.
Friends Meeting House, Ordnance Road, Southampton, from 7.30pm every Sunday.
Call National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133.