SHOCK new figures reveal gamblers in dole-hit South Tyneside are spending millions of pounds on having a flutter.
Despite being an unemployment and social deprivation blackspot, gamblers in the borough spent more than £120m in 12 months at fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in local licensed betting shops.
Fears about the borough’s costly gambling bug have been voiced by a South Tyneside churchman and credit union pioneer, while the national Campaign for Fairer Gambling blasted FOBTs as the “crack cocaine of gambling”.
Figures released by the campaign between April 2011 and March 2012 reveal that in the South Shields constituency, where there were 76 terminals in 21 betting shops, punters spent a staggering £79,637,740, which led to a gross yield for bookmakers of £2,484,697. In the Jarrow constituency, where there were 40 machines in 11 betting shops, punters spent £41,715,007, which produced a bookies’ yield of £1,301,508.
Adrian Parkinson, from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “Fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are touch-screen roulette and casino gaming machines in betting shops, on which it is possible to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds.
“The high stakes and speed of play have led to the machines being called ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’.
“The Gambling Act 2005 limits each betting shop to four FOBTs – so bookies leapfrog regulations by opening up as many shops as possible, which is why we get clustering, especially in poorer areas, as our research has shown.
“We believe the only way to stop machine-driven proliferation of betting shops is to make the machines less profitable.
“So we recommend reducing to maximum stake from £100 down to £2, increasing the time between plays, and removing table game content.”
Latest figures show that more than £5bn was gambled on machines in northern urban cities and London boroughs with high levels of unemployment – four times more than was bet in richer rural areas in southern England, where joblessness is much lower.
But a spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers slammed the findings, claiming most of the money gambled is returned to punters.
He said: “Electronic gaming machines in betting shops return 97 per cent to the player, which means the real figure is just three per cent of what is being claimed.
“Only four per cent of the UK population gambles using an electronic gambling machine in a betting shop, and the majority of players are in full-time work and have formal qualifications from A-levels to degrees.
“It is wrong to claim betting shops target specific areas.”