£16.5 million losers: Leeds tops list of gamblers

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PUNTERS in Leeds lost more than £16 million last year on controversial betting machines dubbed the “crack cocaine” of gambling.

Local MPs today call for action as new figures revealed Leeds to be the gambling-hot-spot of Yorkshire, with its betting shops host to more than 400 Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – high-stakes electronic gaming machines where punters can lose £100 in just 20 seconds. Figures due to be published next month by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling will reveal Leeds gamblers lost £16.5 million on the machines in 2013 – more than anywhere else in the whole of Yorkshire.

Leeds MP Hilary Benn said: “These are shocking figures.”

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Inside the heart of Yorkshire’s gambling centre

Inside Yorkshire’s gambling capital, punters at a betting shop told how they witnessed thousands of pounds being frittered away on addictive machines.

With an estimated £16.5m lost by gamblers in Leeds last year on the glitzy electronic games machines known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), calls are growing for the Government to act.

Unlike fruit machines, where stakes are limited to £2, gamblers can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on FOBTs - more than four times the rate of play in an actual casino.

There are four of the machines at independent bookmakers Liles, in Middleton - the maximum allowed in any one betting shop.

Lee Taylor, a former member of the armed forces who now works as an electrical engineer, says he enjoys playing roulette on the FOBTs from time to time. The 35-year-old says he never lets that enjoyment get out of hand - but he’s seen others who lack his ability to rein it in.

“It’s about self-control,” he said. “I’m the sort of person who can walk away. Having said that, I’ve friends who use them all the time. They get their wages and this is the first thing they do.

“The machines can be a problem because it’s quicker to put money in. I’ve seen people put in hundreds in 20 minutes.

“I’ve seen one person walk away from roulette with £8,500, but on the flip side I’ve seen someone lose £2,000.

“It can be addictive and a lot of people are getting into debt.”

The Labour Party wants the Government to give councils new powers to stop the proliferation of betting shops and the high-stakes machines inside.

Hilary Benn, the MP for Leeds Central and Labour’s shadow communities secretary, said: “There’s all the world of difference between having a flutter and losing large amounts of money on these machines in a short space of time.

“Labour will pass down to communities a new power to decide how many FOBTs there can be in a betting shop.”

The Government said it is waiting for the outcome of an independent review - due to report back this spring - before deciding what action to take.

But the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) insists most people who play on FOBTs are not ‘problem’ gamblers. It insists the majority of punters play for 20 minutes and then leave.

ABB chairman Neil Goulden said: “Electronic gaming machines have been in betting shops for over a decade, during which time no empirical evidence has ever been produced to support the anecdotal claims they cause problem gambling.”

Shop manager Richard Liles says the oft-repeated comparison with crack cocaine is unfair.

“There has been a lot of hype over these machines - and a lot of political manoeuvring,” he says.

* Anyone with questions or concerns about their gambling or that of a friend or family member can call the National Gambling Helpline on Freephone 0808 8020 133.

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