Miliband tackles gambling’s ‘crack cocaine’

Local councils could be given powers to rid their communities of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – sometimes dubbed “the crack cocaine of gambling” – under plans set out by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Ed Miliband outside a William Hilll betting shop in north London

Labour said it would amend planning and gambling laws to enable councils in England, Scotland and Wales to curb the spread of betting shops and to review the number of high-speed, high-stakes FOBTs allowed on their premises – including banning them altogether.

The party also wants to legislate to increase the time between plays on FOBTs, as well as introduce pop-ups warning players how long they have been playing and how much they have lost.

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Labour also wishes to impose regular breaks in play. Currently players can wager £100 every 20 seconds or so, he said, making them highly addictive.

The Labour leader said they had the effect of drawing players in so they lose more than they intend, a view often put forward by critics of FOBTs.

Many are located in deprived areas, where they have become associated with crime, anti-social behaviour and the laundering of drugs money, as well as adding to problems of indebtedness.

Mr Miliband, MP for Doncaster North, said the current limit of four FOBTs in any one betting shop, had simply led to “clusters” of shops opening together. He said these shops often operated from the hours of 7.30am to 10pm and that councils were powerless to act.

“In towns and cities across Britain today, you can see how the old bookies are being turned into mini casinos,” he said.

“In the poorest areas, these are spreading like an epidemic along high streets with the pawn shops and payday lenders that are becoming symbols of Britain’s cost of living crisis.

“This has huge consequences for our communities, causing debt and misery for families, and often acting as a magnet for crime and anti-social behaviour.

“But currently, there is almost nothing that can be done to stop the spread of FOBTs.

“The time has come to give local communities the right to pull the plug on these machines – the right to decide if they want their high streets to be the place for high stakes, high speed, high cost gambling.”