Theresa May is under pressure to surge ahead with a crackdown on highly addictive betting machines – dubbed the 'crack cocaine' of gambling – despite reports of a row with chancellor Philip Hammond.
A government review into fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBTs) has been delayed repeatedly as the Treasury was forced to deny suggestions it had ordered the plans to be scrapped.
The rise of the machines in high-street betting shops has been blamed for fuelling addiction, crime, debt and family breakdown as users can wage £100 every 20 seconds.
They are responsible for 96 per cent of all losses above £1,000 in betting shops and campaigners such as Christian charity CARE say they are concentrated in poorer areas of the country, deliberately targeting those most vulnerable.
The Treasury takes home £400m from the £1.8bn gambled on them each year and one Whitehall source warned cutting the maximum stake to £2, as campaigners have called for, would be 'financially crippling'.
But Paul Morrison, policy advisor for the Joint Public Issues Team, a coalition of Baptists, Methodists, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland, said their tax income 'should not overshadow the overwhelming evidence that these machines are deeply harmful'.
He told Christian Today: '£1.8 billion a year - around £5million a day - is lost on these machines yet the Government's review has already faced substantial delays.
'Action to curb the damage caused by companies operating these machines is long overdue.'
CARE's chief executive Nola Leach joined the pressure on May to press ahead with the plans, saying she was 'alarmed' by suggestions they could be shelved.
'Theresa May's government was supposed to be defined around the idea of creating a Britain that works for everyone, but it's clear that FOBTs do not fit into this narrative. FOBTs may work for the bookmakers and the taxman – but not for problem gamblers, their families or society as a whole.
'If additional revenues need to be raised then we urge the Prime Minister and Chancellor to find other means of doing so that do not depend on the exploitation of vulnerable people.'
CARE joins calls from Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson who said a failure to act now would be highly controversial.
'If the Treasury has insisted the review is shelved then the chancellor has ridden roughshod over his cabinet colleagues and overwhelming public evidence about the danger these highly addictive machines pose,' he said according to the Times.
The proposals to cut the maximum stake to £2 is supported by the government's formal ally, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), as well as by Labour and the Lib Dems so any plans to do so would be certain to pass through the Commons.