Sunday, 22 December 2013

Time to curtail FOBTs

I’ve spoken to many local people who have told me that they are fed up of seeing so many bookmakers operating as mini-casinos offering high-stakes gaming machines on our high street. 

One of the reasons for there being so many betting shops is the prevalence of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). These machines can be highly immersive with players betting up to £300 a minute or £18,000 an hour. Players on these machines may enter the ‘zone’ and spend more money than they intended, causing huge damage. 

The clustering of betting shops can also have a negative impact on high streets with many people expressing concern about anti-social behaviour and the impact on other local businesses. Recent evidence shows that FOBTs machines are concentrating in areas where people are predominantly on low incomes. 

Current legislation limits these machines to four per shop but this just means that betting shops open multiple stores in one area in order to get more FOBTs in to the local neighbourhood. 

With 31 betting shops across the three Medway constituencies this means we could have upto 124 of these types of machines and their prevalence has huge consequences for families, for levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, and for the kind of communities we live in. 

Fixed Odds Betting Terminal machines can cause enormous harm and experts estimate that up to 23% of FOBT takings come from people with gambling problems. 

That’s why I’m backing Medway Labour’s plans to give local people and local authorities the power to decide if they want them on their high street or if they want to ban them from our communities all together. 

Medway Labour’s proposals would put betting shops in a separate class so that councils can use planning powers to control how many open. Labour would also give councils the power to change existing licenses to remove or limit the number of FOBTs in betting shops and reduce their harm by increasing the time between plays, requiring pop-ups to break up continuous cycles of gambling. 

The Conservatives across Medway are clearly split. Whilst several Tory Councillors have been working with the Press to highlight the plight of those impacted we also have several Tories (and former Tories) who are in abject denial about the impacts of FOBTs.

If evidence suggests that FOBTs and betting shops are having a detrimental effect on local people then local authorities must have the power to reclaim their high streets for the benefit of everyone.

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