Senior Labour figure calls for legislation change over gambling laws
Senior Labour figure Harriet Harman has called for a tightening of gambling laws this week and admitted that the Labour Government was wrong to allow high-stakes gambling machines to flourish on British high streets.
In an interview for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, the shadow Culture Secretary Ms Harman blamed the Gambling Act, brought in by the previous Labour Government, for ruining people’s lives.
“I think we were wrong. We have made a mistake and we need to do something about it. If we had known then what we know now, we wouldn’t have allowed this. It’s not just ruining the high street, it’s ruining people’s lives”, she said.
“I have got the most heart-rending letters and emails and calls that I’ve ever had in 30 years of being an MP, just saying, ‘Please, do something about this. It’s ruined my life, it’s ruined my family, it’s really dangerous.’
“And the problem is, it’s getting worse and that’s why we need the law changed so that something can be done about it.”
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
Many of those who wrote to Ms Harman have become hooked on ‘fixed odds betting terminals’ (FOBTs), which were introduced under the previous Labour Government, after the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, abolished duty on individual bets in favour of a tax on bookmakers’ gross profits.
Had there not been a change in law, bookmakers would not have installed FOBTs as the tiny profit margin they make per stake would have been wiped out by the duty.
FOBTs are either slot or virtual roulette machines with maximum payouts of £500 per bet. The slot machines allow a spin every three seconds, and customers can wager as much as £2 per bet. The virtual roulette machine allows three spins per minute and can swallow up to £18,000 in one hour. The maximum bet is £100 per spin.
£12.5bn was gambled via William Hill and Ladbrokes FOTDs in first six months of this year alone.
Critics call FOBTs the ‘crack cocaine’ of British gambling, as they offer better chances of winning than other types of gambling, and are extremely addictive.
Ms Harman stated: “These machines are like mini-casinos – people get addicted and lose all their money. And yes, I think the legislation does need to be changed.”
Relaxation of the law
Currently bookmakers are only allowed to install four of the controversial machines. But last month a committee of MPs argued that betting shops should be allowed to install more FOTDs.
The report, by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, suggested that strict rules on the machines should be relaxed.
Gareth Wallace, of the Salvation Army, commented:
“We’re perplexed that the committee would recommend a further liberalisation of gambling machines when they heard evidence that problem gambling is on the rise.
“This is a one-way street towards more addictive gambling machines in our communities.”