A mother has told the BBC how her life was destroyed by quick-fire betting machines that she calls the ‘heroin’ of gambling.
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Speaking anonymously, she said fixed odds betting machines, known as FOBs, were a real problem for her. They are like a casino and a fruit machine rolled into one.
She was sent to prison for shoplifting offences that she had committed to fund her habit and her children were taken into care.
“The machines are the killer”, the mother said.
The quick-fire nature of FOBs has caused concern to those working with gambling addicts because the machines give users little time to pause for thought.
Rules limiting their use were watered down when the Government passed the Gambling Act 2005.
Since the law was weakened charities that help gambling addicts have seen an increase in cases.
GamCare reported a 21 per cent increase in inquiries in 2008, with 51,000 people contacting the charity. Of those, over a quarter had played on FOBs.
Spokeswoman Kim Hartman said that, unlike betting on sporting events, FOBs are “very fast paced”.
A trade association for bookmakers says the FOBs generate around 40 per cent of their business.
The Gambling Act 2005 also liberalised the law on internet gambling and advertising.
The Conservatives said in March that statistics indicated a considerable increase of almost a quarter of a million more people gambling online last year, compared with 2007 when advertising was allowed for the first time.
In 2008 those playing gambling games increased from 5.2 per cent to 5.6 per cent of the population – an estimate of 3.36 million people.
A report by the Government’s Gambling Commission estimated that 7.4 per cent of online gamers go on to develop an addiction to betting. The Tories calculated this could mean a further 17,760 people with gambling problems.
The Gambling Commission, which was established as part of the Gambling Act 2005 to regulate the industry, has been criticised for its ‘softly, softly’ approach.
One of its mission statements is to “protect children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling”.
However, last year a study produced for the watchdog concluded that problem gambling among the young was an “emerging public health issue”, with one in 20 young people classified as having a gambling problem.
In June a Scottish charity offering one-to-one counselling for problem gamblers said its caseload has doubled in the last year since the law was softened.
Researchers said the problem could become worse when the economy improves, making the situation “like a timebomb ticking away”.