Local councils would be given new powers to ban high stake gambling machines from bookies – if Labour wins the next election, Ed Miliband has said.
Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling” – allow gamblers to stake up to £100 a spin and up to £18,000 an hour on virtual versions of casino games like blackjack and roulette.
Ed Miliband said Labour would change the law to put betting shops in a different class so that councils can use planning powers to control the number opening in their area. Currently bookies are in the same class as banks.
The party would also look into banning FOBTs altogether, despite Labour liberalising laws to formally allow betting shops to install them in 2005.
Mr Miliband said: “In towns and cities across Britain today, you can see how the old bookies are being turned into mini-casinos.
“In the poorest areas, these are spreading like an epidemic along high streets”, he added.
“In Newham there are 87 betting shops with an estimated 348 machines and across the five Liverpool constituencies there are 153 betting shops with around 559 FOBTs.
“This has huge consequences for our communities, causing debt and misery for families, and often acting as a magnet for crime and anti-social behaviour.
“But currently, there is almost nothing that can be done to stop the spread of FOBTs.”
“The time has come to give local communities the right to pull the plug on these machines – the right to decide if they want their high streets to be the place for high stakes, high speed, high cost gambling”, he added.
But a spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers said Mr Miliband’s pledge has “nothing to do with helping problem gamblers” and is “simply about playing politics with the jobs of 40,000 people, and the enjoyment of eight million customers for no reason”.
Fareham Council, Brighton and Hove City Council and Preston Council all voted last month to call on the Government to take action on FOBTs.
In December, MPs backed changes to increase stakes and prizes for slot machines – but the amendments did not lower the maximum stakes for FOBTs from £100.