Fenland’s gambling habits revealed: We lose £7,000 A DAY to fixed odds betting machines (FOBTs)

The Government is to review the legislation surrounding fixed odds betting terminals. Picture: Archa

The Government is to review the legislation surrounding fixed odds betting terminals. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Gamblers in the four market towns in Fenland lose on average £7,000 a day to fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) says a campaign group for fairer gambling.

According to estimates from Stop the FOBTs, gamblers in March, Wisbech, Chatteris and Whittlesey lost £2,486,018 in 2016, with a total of £16,842,399 lost between 2008-2016.

The figures also reveal that in 2016 just under £10 million was staked on machines in Fenland – and between 2008 and 2016 punters piled in a whopping £53.5 million.

FOBTs are casino-style machines that accept low-stakes bets to play games such as roulette, and have been criticised for their addictive potential.

There are 44 of the machines in the Fenland District Council area and situated in just 12 betting shops.

The government is currently reviewing proposals for further regulation.

Campaigners such as Stop the FOBTs are calling for the maximum stake to be reduced to £2 a turn.

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One recovering gambling addict spoke anonymously to Archant reporter Mia Jancowitz about the impact that FOBTs have had on his life.

“I never really had any problem with any other form of gambling, but FOBTs are a whole different ball game,” he said

A roulette game on a FOBT currently allows a stake of up to £100 per spin, which takes 20 seconds to complete.

“I myself have lost £1,000 in 20 minutes,” said the man, who had gambling problems for around six years.

He said that the bookies pull in punters with free offers as a way of getting people hooked.

“I’ve been in gambling of one kind or another for around 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like these machines.

“They can change someone who is reasonably level-headed into someone with almost an obsessional, zombie-like need to gamble.

“It feels like you are spiralling out of control, but you can’t stop.”

The man in his 30s, who works in financial services, described how the addiction took over his life.

“In the midst of it, there was nothing more devastating. Total desolation.

“Numerous times when I was on these machines I wasn’t able to pay the rent. I’d quite happily lie about my whereabouts and finances. It caused massive rifts in my family.”

The ex-addict we spoke to emphasised that the issue cuts across all social classes.

“There’s a perception that it’s the poorer or less educated members of society [who get addicted] but either way it becomes a hand-to-mouth existence whether you’re on £7 an hour or £70,000 a year. I was earning a decent living, but I scraped by on a pittance.”

Yet at one stage he calculated that he had lost more than his total earnings for that year.

“In the midst of it, there was nothing more devastating. Total desolation. All your hard work and efforts go down the swanee.”

The man believes that the key to recovery is accepting responsibility for his actions, and spoke out in order to help others take control.

A spokesman for William Hill said that reducing the stakes is not guaranteed to work.

He said: “To date the research [the Government] has commissioned has clearly stated that stake cuts will do little or nothing to alleviate problem gambling and it would be more effective to focus on data gathering, identifying harmful behaviour and targeting of those that suffer from the problem.”

William Hill currently fund research and gambling addiction support organisations as part of addressing the problem.

They are developing algorithms that should be able to recognise warning signs in people’s gambling behaviour, helping staff judge when to step in.

The spokesman said: “There are a number of activities we undertake to warn people of the dangers of excessive gambling including information on the gaming machines, shop broadcasts, leaflets and funding of advertising. We also provide a number of tools such as self exclusion.”

If you think you may have a gambling problem, contact www.GamCare.org.uk for support.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to cut the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2 but the Conservative Government is relying on a long-awaited review of FOBTs before deciding if action is needed.

The review was promised for the summer but has been delayed and it is not clear when it will be published. The matter has been further complicated by the Government’s coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist Party, who favours cutting the maximum stake to £2.