High streets turned into casinos, Panorama told

Betting machines that allow users to stake £100 every 20 seconds are turning high streets into casinos, a former gambler has told BBC Panorama.

Matt Zarb-Cousin was speaking to presenter Wendy Bendel, whose boyfriend killed himself after using Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

She heard how the spread of FOBTs across the country was an “epidemic”, ruining people’s lives.

Gambling comes first

Currently, gamblers are able to wager up to £100 every spin, and calls to lower the stakes to £2 a spin have so far been ignored.

The Government announced a review of FOBTs earlier this month, after proposals for a review in 2015 were blocked by the Cabinet Office.

Wendy Bendel also spoke to Tony Franklin – a gambler for his whole adult life. He showed her receipts from one betting shop where he had spent £3,500 in an hour and explained how he put his gambling before friends, family and work.

‘Moral challenge’

The former Chairman of betting chain Paddy Power, Fintan Drury, also featured on the programme, saying he believed people in his industry had not been strong enough in ‘personalising the moral challenge’.

“What if it was one of my children who was addicted? How would I feel about how we promote our offering?” he asked.

And the Mayor of Newham, Robin Wales, told Panorama about his opposition to FOBTs.

Multiple shops

He explained that while betting shops are limited on the number of FOBTs per outlet, they circumvent the spirit of the rules by opening multiple shops in the same area.

“It’s not about competition, it’s about picking up money from people who are coming in and spending on these awful machines.”

The Association of British Bookmakers refused to be interviewed and in a statement would not acknowledge that problem gambling had increased in the years that FOBTs had been present in betting shops.

It also drew attention to the measures introduced by the industry on the issue.

‘Not convinced’

Wendy Bendel concluded the programme by calling on the Government to listen to those who are calling for change.

“I’m not convinced the industry will get there on its own”, she said.

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