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High-stakes fruit machines debated

MPs will vote tomorrow on measures to tackle the spread of high-stakes gambling machines which Labour claims have allowed betting shops to become "mini casinos".

The Opposition has called a debate on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) which can result in users losing up to £300 a minute.

Unlike traditional fruit machines in pubs and amusement arcades, punters can gamble up to £ 100 every 20 seconds on the FOBTs, attracted by payouts of up to £500.

Labour hopes to win backing from Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs concerned about the spread of the machines when the issue is voted on in the Commons on Wednesday.

Labour's shadow sport minister Clive Efford said: "Across the country, traditional bookies are being turned into mini-casinos, where people can gamble up to £300 a minute. The next Labour government will give powers to local communities to ban high stakes gambling machines from high streets.

"Over recent months, we've seen the Tories and Lib Dems posturing on fixed odds betting machines, but totally failing to act.

"This week, Labour is calling a vote in Parliament to give local people the power to pull the plug on these gambling machines. If the Tories and Lib Dems refuse to back Labour's proposals they'll have to answer why they are standing up for the large betting companies rather than communities across the country."

Bookmakers are allowed up to four of the machines in each branch, but Labour claims they get around the regulations by opening more branches, with FOBTs clustered in poorer communities.

Under Labour's proposals councils would be given powers to use planning controls to limit the number of bookmakers allowed to open in an area and authorities would also be allowed to restrict the number of FOBTs or ban them altogether from the premises.

The Opposition would also slow down the games by increasing the time between bets, and insist on pop-up screens telling players how much they had lost.

In a Commons vote last month MPs voted by 322 to 231, a majority of 91, to approve a report by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which claimed there was no need to reduce the current maximum stake from £100.

Just four Tories rebelled and Labour MP Tom Watson, who led a campaign against the machines, blundered by voting in favour of the current position.

Gambling Minister Helen Grant said: "This is yet more opportunistic nonsense from Labour. Just a few weeks ago Clive Efford said that there was no evidence to support a change in the stake and prize levels for FOBTs, yet now he is trotting out a totally contradictory line written for him by his political masters.

"Any concerns about fixed-odds betting machines should be laid firmly at Labour's door. In 2000, these machines did not exist - by the time of the last general election there were over 30,000.

"This Government is undertaking the biggest ever study into the effect of these machines and have made clear that we will not hesitate to take action if the evidence points in that direction. To act without evidence is inappropriate and extraordinarily cynical, even by Labour's standards.

"Councils already have planning powers to tackle the proliferation of betting shops, as well as licensing powers to tackle individual premises causing problems and we have already acted to ensure the industry puts in place the types of player protection measures that Labour are now, at long last, calling for."


From Belfast Telegraph