Holyrood wants betting machines axed from bookies

Fixed odds betting terminals have spread across Scotland's high streets, sparking concern from MSPs. Picture: AFP/Getty
Fixed odds betting terminals have spread across Scotland's high streets, sparking concern from MSPs. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Controversial fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) that can see players lose hundreds of pounds in minutes should be banned from Scotland’s high streets, MSPs have said.

The gaming machines, which allow customers to bet on the outcome of various games and events with fixed-odds returns, are now commonplace in betting shops.

However, Holyrood’s local government and regeneration committee has called for a ban on FOBTs that include roulette, bingo, simulated horse and greyhound racing as well as a range of slot machine games. The MSPs heard evidence that the machines are sometimes referred to as the “crack cocaine” of gambling.

Convener Kevin Stewart, an SNP MSP, said members of the committee were “shocked” at the huge losses racked up by some players.

He said the inquiry found local authorities felt powerless to stop the spread of FOBTs, which he claimed were viewed in the casino sector as unsuitable for betting shops.

However, the committee found that a betting shop can have up to four of the machines on their premises under existing regulations.

There are currently 839 FOBT machines in licensed betting premises in Glasgow, 421 in Edinburgh, 320 in North Lanarkshire and 316 in South Lanarkshire, a report from the committee said.

Mr Stewart said: “We have heard how quickly and easily players can become addicted and lose hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds.

“The casino industry told us these machines are a form of hard gambling and unsuitable for the unsupervised environment of a bookmaker’s shop.

“We were given evidence about the clustering of bookmakers – for example, one parade of shops in Glasgow with three bookmakers each offering four FOBT machines – and local authorities have told us they feel powerless to do anything to restrict the number of bookmakers.”

The committee called for local councils to be handed powers to stop the spread of FOBTs but said an outright ban would be the best solution. However, the MSPs claimed that the Scotland Bill, which is delivering a new package of powers to Scotland, would not give Holyrood “effective powers to tackle this issue”.

Mr Stewart added: “Communities must be given the power to control this number.

“The Scotland Bill proposals stem from a concern about the harmful effects of FOBTs but the bill would not give the Scottish Parliament any real and effective powers to tackle these.

“We believe that the maximum stake of £100 per game and ability to play three games per minute mean FOBTs are a form of hard gambling and must, therefore, be banned from the high street.”

The Scottish Government said it was seeking to address the issue of the spread of FOBTs, but stated that it did not have sufficient powers to progress a full ban.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The provisions of the Scotland Bill fall short of even the Smith Commission’s limited recommendations on controlling the spread of fixed odds betting terminals, and so we intend to bring forward legislation to increase planning controls in an effort to stop the spread of these shops.”