Gamblers in our district fed £87.2 million into high-stake gaming machines dubbed ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’ last year.
That’s £555.18 gambled per person on the machines in the Dewsbury and Batley and Spen constituencies.
A report by the Fairer Gambling organisation, which gleaned the figures from analysis of industry data, shows there are 84 ‘Fixed Odds Betting Terminals’ in 23 betting shops in our area. The touch-screen roulette and casino gaming machines allow players to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, a spokesman for Fairer Gambling, said: “The high stakes and speed of play have led to the machines being called ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’.”
Current regulations restrict bookmakers to four machines per shop. Mr Zarb-Cousin said: “Bookies leapfrog regulations by opening up as many shops as possible, which is why we get clustering – especially, as our research has shown, in poorer areas.”
Trish Makepeace, Chairwoman of the Dewsbury Chamber of Trade, expressed concern at the figures.
She said: “People are chasing a dream, hoping that they are going to win. But it’s the people who can least afford it that are going into these places. If they are spending all their money on gambling, they must be cutting down on other things like food.”
Fairer Gambling wants to see measures introduced that would make the machines less addictive, as research suggests they have features that could create more problem gamblers.
Dewsbury-based Carrigill’s Bookmakers averages only 2.5 machines per shop. Owner George Carrigill said the machines were a ‘very good’ source of income for the national chains – but added that he did not think they contributed to problem gambling. “Fortunes are fed into these machines – but the return to the customer is 97.5 per cent,” he added.
“Bookmakers make around 2.6 per cent profit. The machines provide the best value for any customer going into a shop.”
In one month last year, £130,000 was put into a betting machine at one of Mr Carrigills shops – but it made a loss of around £400. “It shows we can lose as well as win,” added Mr Carrigill.
Despite punters spending an estimated £87,222,287 on the machines, the profit made by betting shops, known as the gross gambling yield, was just over £2.5m. But Mr Carrigill conceded that unscrupulous chains were opening small shops in West Yorkshire – some of which are open from 7am-10pm – ‘purely for the machines’.
Dewsbury and Mirfield MP Simon Reevell said: “The bookmakers have a responsibility to make sure that they are not allowing people with a gambling problem to put money in machines when they shouldn’t be.
“But if people want to bet responsibly, they are entitled to do that.”