Gambling, and fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in particular, have been in the headlines this week. The Government is consulting on whether to reduce the maximum bet from £100 to £2.
Today the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) adds its voice to the call to reduce the maximum stake.
In 2006, the CSJ published its Breakthrough Britain report on addiction, which outlined the systemic issue of gambling and its pervasive effects on individuals and communities.
At the time of publication, there were 250,000 problem gamblers in the UK. Now estimates exceed 590,000. In 2010, each user averaged gambling debts of £17,500, making gambling a major driver of poverty.
The number of FOBTs is also at an all-time high of 34,809, with an estimated £1.7 billion being lost on the machines annually. This is the equivalent of £48,724 being lost per machine each year. The CSJ believes that the high stakes of FOBTs have compounded the social issues perpetuated by gambling and that the reduction of the maximum stake to £2 would reduce problem gambling.
In addition to the obvious problems of debt, there is a growing number of violent episodes directly resulting from individuals using these machines.
Research by the Local Government Association found that violence, assault and ASBOs were heavily associated with FOBT use.
In England there were 9,083 incidents of police being called out in relation to FOBTs in 2015, an increase of 1600 from the previous year. This violence and criminal damage in shops can carry onto the street or into the household, placing a strain on local communities, families and children.
And so the CSJ believes that if the stakes on FOBTs were reduced, it would also reduce and limit the number of families impacted by problem gambling. Children would consequently also be less at risk of falling into problem gambling themselves.
The Government has a budget to balance, and business freedoms to consider, but it should not do so on the backs of its most vulnerable, and often addicted, citizens.
In short, the measure could: protect users; halt the rise of problem gamblers; reverse the increase in gambling-related violence; halt the spiral of serious personal debt; and reduce the destruction of poorer communities, families and children.
The Government should adopt it.