THE potential shelving of a government review into controversial betting machines dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling” has been branded as tragic.
Richard Burkitt, of Merkinch addictions charity For the Right Reasons, made the call this week after it was suggested Chancellor Phillip Hammond is pushing for the ongoing review to be scrapped because of the vast amounts of money the machines produce in taxes.
Rev Burkitt is a long time opponent of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) that currently allow gamblers to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on casino-style games like roulette.
While current legislation limits individual betting shops to providing just four terminals each, Merkinch has three shops within yards of each other, providing easy access to 12 of the machines.
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling suggested last year that £75.8 million was gambled in FOBTs at 17 premises across the Highlands.
As a result, they said, punters ended up a collective £2.65 million out of pocket.
There have been calls for betting rates to be reduced and the review by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was widely expected to back that stance.
The government has denied the report is being shelved, though some have still voiced worries that a potential lowering of the stakes that can be bet to just £2 could be watered down.
Rev Burkitt said any potential threat to the current review was “tragic”.
“We are not asking people to remove them but restrict the amount of money you can bet and lose in one go,” he said.
“There is nothing but adverts for gambling on the television and it has taken over half of sports.
“The gambling lobbyists are winning while we are asking not to have two shops next to each other or on the same street.”
He added: “If it is the tax revenue that is the reason then they are putting money before morality.”
Spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) Donald Morrison said his organisation still understood the report would be published in October and said decisions about gaming machines stakes and prizes are “clearly a matter for government”.
However he added: “The ABB has always argued that reducing the stakes on gaming machines in betting shops would have severe economic consequences, not just in terms of Exchequer revenues, but also in terms of jobs and business rates.
“At the same time, reducing stakes on gaming machines in betting shops will do nothing to tackle problem gambling since the issue is rarely linked to one particular product.
“It is worth noting that gamblers spend almost twice as much on lotteries as they do on gaming machines in betting shops.”
And he added: “Bookmakers are committed to responsible gambling and our 5000 staff are trained to monitor player activity and help anyone who may be developing a problem.”
Merkinch was recently used as a pilot for a campaign to promote responsible gambling, with Merkinch Gamble Support Week running as a partnership between ABB, For the Right Reasons, Paisley addictions charity RCA Trust and bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes.
Involving the distribution of help information as well as a presentation to local school pupils the week also offered free counselling for anyone who needed it.
Only around half-a-dozen people took up the offer but Mr Burkitt said he felt the campaign’s visibility was still a good thing.
There are now plans to take the initiative to other areas of Scotland.