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Gaming Machines

Volume 540: debated on Thursday 9 February 2012

2. What estimate he has made of the number of category B2 gaming machines in operation in the UK. (94331)

The latest version of the Gambling Commission’s six-monthly industry statistics was published in December 2011. It showed that the number of category B2 gaming machines—fixed odds betting terminals, or FOBTs, as they are sometimes known—in operation in Great Britain as at 31 March 2011 was 32,007.

I am most grateful to the Minister for that answer. The FOBTs he refers to, through which punters can lose £100 a spin or £18,000 a year, have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling. As he said, numbers are exploding: some 32,000 such machines are in easily accessed high street betting shops, yet the evidence shows that they are causing real damage to individuals and families, including some of the poorest people in our communities. Does the Minister therefore not agree that a responsible Government should be taking urgent action to address this problem, including looking at the recommendations in early-day motion 2634, such as cutting the stakes and prize levels of these machines so that they are more akin to those in other adult centres?

I completely share my right hon. Friend’s concern about gambling addiction. Although it affects only a small number of people, it can ruin lives and is a very serious issue. Many colleagues on both sides of the House have raised it, as did Mary Portas in her recent review of the health of high streets throughout the country. However, my right hon. Friend will agree that we have to ensure that any policy or regulatory changes that might be considered are based not just on concern and anecdote, but on firm evidence and factual foundation. Therefore, my invitation to him and any other colleagues concerned about this issue—on either side of the House—is that if they can bring me hard evidence and facts, I will of course consider them extremely carefully.

Despite what the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) says, does my hon. Friend the Minister not accept that the percentage of problem gamblers using FOBTs declined from 11.2% in 2007 to 8.8% last year, and that the availability of gambling on the internet drives a coach and horses through the ridiculous limits we now have on the use of betting shop terminals? Given that people can use only one at a time—or perhaps two at best if they are particularly proficient—whether there are four, six or eight in a betting shop makes absolutely no difference at all to an individual’s problem gambling.

I accept that the causal link between FOBTs and problem gambling is poorly understood, which is why I asked for better evidence and facts to back up any suggested changes in regulation. I also agree with my hon. Friend that remote gambling is changing how people gamble. We need to make sure that such gambling is properly controlled and regulated, which is why we propose to introduce new regulations on it in due course.