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Addictive gambling terminals need to be curtailed

I write in response to Fionola Meredith's column (DebateNI, February 27). At age 16, I became addicted to fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops; machines on which it is possible to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds.

I should not have gone into a betting shop underage and accept my share of responsibility for doing so. I became addicted to these fast-paced roulette machines very quickly and, over a period of four years, I lost more than £16,000. Fionola argues: "But we don't demand a ban on all bars and pubs just because some people are addicted to alcohol, do we?". But I think this comparison to alcohol is clumsy.

The responsibility for alcoholism is a three-way street between the industry, the Government and the individual. That is why treatment is available on the NHS for anyone who becomes an alcoholic.

Last year, the NHS spent £200 per alcoholic, but the NHS does not treat gambling addiction. Only £9.37 was spent per problem gambler. It is, therefore, imperative preventative measures are in place to stop people becoming problematic gamblers or to at least limit the potential FOBTs have for harm. Capping the stake at £2 a spin is not anti-gambling. It merely recognises that £2 is a safe and acceptable staking level for a gambling machine in an easily accessible high street location.

The NI Executive would do well to learn from the mistakes of the rest of the UK. Their legitimisation of FOBTs has been an unmitigated disaster.

It is crucial the Executive acts quickly to curtail this harmful product.

MATT ZARB-COUSIN

Campaign for Fairer Gambling

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