MP warns on bet limit for bookies' machines

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The Independent Online

Dramatically reducing the maximum bet gamblers can place on a single spin of high-stake, casino-style machines would result in a "murky" compromise with the big five bookmakers, a campaigning MP has argued.

Graham Jones has been Labour's most vocal MP on tackling the ill-effects of high-speed fixed-odds betting terminals, but said he was "not convinced" by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling's solution of capping stakes at £2.

Currently, punters can lose up to £300 a minute on the machines. He added he was "not quite on the same page" as the campaign, even though he was hosting the Parliamentary launch of the group's latest research yesterday.

Campaign consultant Adrian Parkinson insisted that the cap is the only way of reducing the harmful effects of the touchscreen machines, dubbed the "crack cocaine of gambling". The latest report claims that more than £1.6bn was lost on FOBTs in the UK last year, with typical gamblers in areas of particularly acute deprivation like Liverpool and Middlesbrough losing around £1,400 each.

However, Mr Jones said that focusing on the amount wagered would simply lead to "elongated" negotiations with the bookmakers, such as William Hill and Ladbrokes, that so dominate the market over a mere number.

Ultimately, time would be wasted on reaching a compromise between the £2 proposal and the £100 that players can gamble every 20 seconds. This would distract the focus from the central issue of addiction, the Labour MP for Hyndburn in Lancashire argued.

In a speech last year, Labour leader Ed Miliband said he would give councils the power to ban FOBTs from their high streets. Mr Jones said: "It's better to have zones [banning] FOBTs than long, drawn-out debates on whether the bets should be £20, £30, £10 or £2 – I can see that being a murky debate potentially."

The Coalition is examining a code of conduct proposed by the Association of British Bookmakers last week. This would let gamblers set their own limits on the amount of time and money they could lose on the machines, which have been lightly regulated but proved highly addictive.

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