Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Council to debate motion aimed at tackling 'crack cocaine of gambling'

In May 2018, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced their decision to reduce the stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
In May 2018, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced their decision to reduce the stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

Belfast City Council will debate a motion aimed at tackling what has been dubbed the 'crack cocaine of gambling'.

Due before the council on Monday, the motion will call on betting companies operating in the province to voluntarily reduce the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT's) from £100 to £2, in line with a recent Westminster decision.

Critics describe the machines as the 'crack cocaine of gambling', with MP Matt Hancock branding them a "social blight" that "prey on some of the most vulnerable in society" by feeding gambling addiction.

In May 2018, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced their decision to reduce the stake on such machines, where people can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on electronic casino games such as roulette.

The change in legislation, however, due to come into force in October this year, does not apply to Northern Ireland, in part because the Gambling Act 2005 does not extend across the Irish Sea.

A May 2017 survey by the Department for Communities found a problem gambling prevalence rate of 2.3% in Northern Ireland - more than four times higher than that in England.

One major betting company, Ladbrokes, has voluntarily decided to reduce the stake on FOTB's in its' shops in Northern Ireland, and Monday's motion will ask Belfast City Council to call on others to do the same.

“This council notes the enormous damage which gambling addiction can cause in the lives of individuals, families and communities," the motion reads.

The motion, proposed by PUP councillor Dr John Kyle and seconded by SDLP councillor Donal Lyons, also notes that action cannot be taken to reduce the stakes on FOTB's here due to the lack of ministers at Stormont.

"The council calls on betting companies operating in Northern Ireland to follow the decision of Ladbrokes to voluntarily reduce the stakes on FOBT machines in this jurisdiction, in line with the rest of the UK," the motion states.

"The council also calls on the Department of Health to review the support given to individuals suffering from gambling addiction and calls for the creation of a dedicated service to address this addiction.

"The council will ask the Department of Health and Department for Communities to meet with an all-party delegation to discuss support for individuals suffering from gambling addiction and the status of FOBT’s.”

Many well-known figures in Northern Ireland have spoken out publicly about the dangers of gambling addiction, such as Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty and Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes.

In his 2013 memoir How Not to be a Football Millionaire, Larne-born ex-Manchester United and Newcastle player Keith Gillespie revealed he had lost as much as £47,000 in one day through gambling.

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