Councils join Christian MP as pressure mounts on government over gambling regulation

Pressure was heaped on the government over betting regulations on Tuesday after local councils joined Christian MP Jim Shannon to call for a clamp down on the "crack-cocaine of gambling".

Fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBTs) were targeted by Shannon in his parliamentary debate on Tuesday morning as he called for the maximum stake to be reduced from £100 to £2.

The local government association (LGA), which represents 373 councils in England and Wales, also waded into the debate over the controversial machines. The fast-paced games take stakes of up to £100 per 'spin' lasting 20 seconds. Players can lose up to £300 per minute and £18,000 per hour leading to growing calls for the maximum stake to be cut.

Figures show nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of problem gamblers in the UK have reported debts of between £20,000 and £100,000, with counselling sessions increasing by 29 per cent between 2013/14 and 2014/15.Pixabay

Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA's safer and stronger communities board said the "harm and anti-social behaviour they can cause has become an issue of growing national concern.

"Someone playing on a machine can lose £100 in a matter of seconds in a single play on an FOBT. This is money many people can't afford to lose and needs to be looked at again."

Shannon, the DUP MP for Strangford in Northern Ireland, said the "simple answer" was to reduce the stake. He added that the machines have "clustered in areas of high social deprivation" and "prey on the young and vulnerable".

He said regulation and a limit on the maximum stake to £2 was "the only way effectively to tackle the growing problems that these machines are inflicting on our communities and on those who can least afford it".

FOBTs have been a prominent issue for Christians, with CARE, a Christian public policy charity, among a number of campaigners calling for a £2 maximum stake. Nola Leach, chief executive of the charity, said the rise of FOBTs "cannot be ignored". She added the way they had been shown to proliferate in poorer areas was a "huge cause for concern".

She said: "People are losing vast sums of money on these machines which often leads to further problems such as job losses and family breakdown and tragically, some players even commit suicide.

"FOBTs are causing social devastation across the country and the unique combination of high speed play and a high maximum stake means problem gamblers are especially at risk.

"The government should stop stalling because the longer it takes to act, the more devastation these toxic machines will cause."

However in his response the minister responsible for gambling, David Evennett, said he "recognised the concerns" around FOBTs but offered no assurances on reducing the stake.

The debate and the LGA's intervention comes after a poll revealed 72 per cent of MPs want tougher regulations on FOBTs. The poll also showed 81 per cent also say FOBTs are having a negative effect on society and 67 per cent say the current maximum stake is too high.