Elderly people are losing thousands of pounds on slot machines in bingo halls, a BBC investigation has found.
In the last five years the number of higher-stake slot machines, known as B3 machines, in bingo halls has risen from 6,226 to 10,014, the BBC reported.
A change to the Gambling Act 2005 was made in 2011 to “aid struggling amusement arcades and bingo halls”, allowing venues to host more machines with increased stakes.
But a former bingo hall general manager said of the machines: “It felt like legalised mugging at times.”
“These machines suck people in and don’t seem to let them go.”
The manager also described an incident when an affluent lady spent all day on four machines, and bet almost £12,000.
A woman whom the BBC called Mary became addicted after an early jackpot win of £500.
The first time she lost a large amount – £300 – she said she felt sick, and vowed never to bet on the machines again.
At this point she was already addicted, and returned, regularly losing £1,000 or £2,000 in an evening, leaving the bingo hall ‘without a penny’.
She also found she wanted to carry on after leaving the bingo hall, and would continue playing slots online using her laptop. She estimates she lost around £70,000 on slot machines, and another £150,000 on bingo websites.
To fund her habit, she stole from her husband and used up most of their combined savings. She attempted to commit suicide and was in hospital for a long time recovering.
The BBC reported that most of these B3 machines are in the entrances to the halls, requiring regular bingo players to walk past them as they enter the premises.
The machines only take notes and allow gamblers to bet £2 a spin every few seconds.
The reporter also noted that “in every bingo club I’ve been to” there were free ATMs next to these machines.
Mary said that bingo hall employees were not protecting problem gamblers, saying they would “come and tap you on the shoulder and ask if you would like a drink”.
“They never, ever tried to warn you off”, she said.
A former staff member at a bingo hall spoke to his area manager about concerns but received a cryptic response: “He didn’t tell me outright not to ban problem customers, but made it very clear that my bonus was linked to income at the club.”
Mecca Bingo claims that “All customer-facing staff are given responsible gambling training”, and that it “monitors customers’ spending and behaviour to spot anyone at risk”.