By Rob Davies
Punters’ losses are largest in deprived areas and opposition-held constituencies, analysis finds
The Labour party has accused the government of failing to act on fixed-odds betting terminals, after data showed that gamblers’ losses are largest in deprived areas and opposition-held constituencies.A breakdown of estimated losses by parliamentary constituency shows that areas where voters chose Labour in the 2015 election make up eight of the top 10 most affected. Of 62 constituencies where gamblers lost more than £5m in 2015-16, 47 are Labour, five are Scottish National party areas and 10 are Conservative.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have promised in their general election manifestos to cut the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2. The Conservative manifesto did not address the issue and the government has so far resisted calls for stake reduction, pending a review due to be published this summer.
The data also shows a greater concentration of betting shops in areas with higher rates of poverty, fuelling existing concerns that bookmakers are “clustering” their shops in deprived areas.
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said: “Theresa May’s government has repeatedly failed to act on FOBTs, despite being presented with evidence they are highly addictive and target people who struggle to control their gambling.
“Local councils see the damage FOBTs cause in communities up and down the country but the Tories have simply refused to talk about how to tackle this problem. It’s a shameful record of inaction which confirms the Tories will always place corporate interests ahead of people.”
Despite the prominence of Labour constituencies in the top 10, the highest losses were recorded in a Conservative seat, the Cities of London and Westminster, where gamblers lost £31m in 120 bookmakers, an average of more than £250,000 per shop.
The data, which shows that nine of the top 10 biggest losses are in London constituencies, may be skewed by the high number of people who do not live in those areas but pass through for work and tourism. Outside London, the worst affected constituency was Glasgow Central, where gamblers lost £10m on FOBTs in 66 betting shops, followed by Liverpool Riverside, where bookies took £8.1m.
Outside of London, Glasgow Central has the highest playing population of 10,000 people who spent £10.3m between 2015-16
And the constituencies outside London that suffered the biggest losses are also dominated by Labour and the SNP. Of the 15 where FOBTs took more than £5m, nine are Labour, five are SNP and one is Conservative.
While there is no official data on losses by constituency, the estimates were compiled by consultancy Landman Economics on behalf of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, by cross-referencing data released by the Gambling Commission and the Responsible Gambling Trust.
The statistics used to calculate the estimates include the number of bookmakers in local authority areas and the average losses in each region of the UK. The total estimated figure of £1.7bn for all constituencies tallies with the amount the Gambling Commission said bookies took from FOBTs in the 2015-16 year.
The data also provide fresh evidence of “clustering” by bookmakers, which have been accused of targeting areas suffering from low wages, high unemployment and high rates of child poverty. Forty-three parliamentary constituencies have more than 30 betting shops, of which 74% have a higher-than-average claimant count for jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit. About two-thirds have an average weekly wage below the national median, while 79% report above-average child poverty rates.A spokesperson for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling said: “This research shows that bookmakers are targeting the most deprived parts of the country with a highly addictive gambling product. They circumvent the limit of four FOBTs per shop by opening multiple outlets, which leads to clustering. It is welcome that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have committed to reducing the maximum stake to £2 in their manifestos.
Bookmakers rake in £1.8bn a year from FOBTs, according to figures released last month, more than half of their annual revenue.
Where FOBT gamblers are losing their money
Inner city areas, deprived communities and constituencies that vote either Labour or SNP account for the biggest losses on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals, according to estimates compiled using data provided by the Gambling Commission and the Responsible Gambling Trust.
Bookmakers have argued that there is no causal link between FOBTs and problem gambling, and that curbing the maximum amount that can be staked on the machines could cost jobs and deprive the exchequer of taxes.
Jim Mullen, the chief executive of betting firm Ladbrokes Coral, has said cutting the maximum stake could cost up to 20,000 jobs. But campaigners and rival segments of the gambling industry, which support greater curbs on FOBTs, have questioned the claims.
John White, the chief executive of amusement arcade trade body Bacta, said the warnings were “scaremongering, designed to shore up a status quo that puts consumers at risk”.
Landman Economics has previously said that FOBTs represent a net drain on the economy, despite the tax revenues they provide. The economic research consultancy said FOBTs have actually reduced HMRC’s tax income by £1.3bn since 2008 because the money spent on them would be more productive if spent elsewhere.