A voluntary code of conduct aimed at cracking down on problem gambling is being rolled out, but campaigners say it is a “smokescreen”.
Under measures from the Association of British Bookmakers customers will be able to set their own time and money limits for using Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
However, one anti-FOBT group dismissed the new code as a “smokescreen to hide the damage and destruction these machines are causing”.
The Government gave a partial welcome to the move but said the changes “must be made mandatory” across all bookmakers.
Under the new code users who go over their own limits will be forced to have a 30-second break, and staff will be given training to spot problem gamblers.
Technology – which could take up to six months to be installed across England and Wales – will also alert users after they spend £250 or 30 minutes on the machines.
FOBTs are known as the “crack cocaine” of gambling, and allow users to stake up to £100 a spin and up to £18,000 an hour.
Adrian Parkinson, a former bookmaker who now works for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said betting shops know that “no punter voluntarily restricts their time and spend”.
“Alerting gamblers to the amount of money they have lost does not offer any protection”, he said.
Writing in The Sunday Times Culture Secretary Maria Miller said that while the changes were a “good step forward”, it was “clearly not enough”.
She added: “Therefore, I have decided that these player protections must be made mandatory so that every bookmaker must abide by the new rules.
“I have asked the Gambling Commission to make sure this happens. In the future, these rules will therefore form part of the operators’ licence conditions and bookmakers will have to accept them or not be able to trade.”
Dirk Vennix – Chief Executive of the Association of British Bookmakers – said: “One problem gambler is one too many”.
“That is why we have put together the code, which introduces revolutionary new harm minimisation measures, the likes of which have yet to be seen anywhere in the world”, he added.