Pressured government acts on fixed-odds bets

Cost of gambling on individuals and families in the spotlight.
Cost of gambling on individuals and families in the spotlight.


ADDICTION to gambling games, including Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals, is wrecking Asian families, campaigners have warned.

The maximum bet on the terminals will be cut from £100 to £2 from April 2019 after the
government bowed to pressure last week.

Tracey Crouch quit as sports minister on November 1 in protest at the initial decision to delay cutting the stakes on fixed-odds machines till October, warning the prime minister the failure to act will cost lives.

Diwali is a festival where some Hindu and Sikhs in Britain traditionally celebrated
by gambling in casinos.

Dinesh Bhugra, professor of mental health and cultural diversity at Kings College
London, told Eastern Eye: “On Diwali, for many south Asian communities the day
is celebrated by gambling.

“Although this gambling is in the spirit of celebration and may be light and not serious
but fun, it indicates an underlying cultural acceptance of gambling.

“The tragedy is that in some south Asian families members, especially men, get addicted
to fruit machines or other forms of gambling initially to make extra money and then to fall into addiction patterns.”

He added: “Addiction to gambling is a well-recognised psychiatric illness and it can be a major contributing factor to other forms of self-harm and domestic violence, which can further add to stress, financial difficulties and mental illnesses.

“The government must take urgent action to control the amount people can spend on fruit machines. It is a major public mental health issue and it is important that appropriate steps are taken as a matter of urgency to control levels of gambling to protect vulnerable individuals and vulnerable families.”

Some casinos in the UK offered Diwali themed parties to lure south Asians who play touch-screen games, including blackjack and roulette.

In England and Wales, gambling participation was highest among white adults at 59 per cent, compared with 46 per cent of black adults and 32 per cent of Asians, according to a study by NatCen Social Research in 2016.

For those classed as “problem gamblers”, 0.4 per cent of people of south Asian origin
said they had an issue, compared with 0.6% from the white community.

Previous research has showed British Asian children who gamble are twice as likely to become addicted as white children, lying to friends and family about their habit or using money meant for other expenses.

Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in east London, said research showed there are over 430,000 problem gamblers in Britain and a further two million at risk of developing a problem.

She told Eastern Eye: “I am extremely concerned about the epidemic of problem gambling and the real damage that fixedodds betting terminals can cause.

“Nearly 14% of people who use fixedodds betting terminals are problem gamblers
and in 2016, £1.8 billion was lost on these high-speed machines.

“These machines can ruin lives and I have long believed the maximum stake should be lowered to reduce the addictive nature of these games.

“Problem gambling should be treated as a public-health emergency and lowering
the stake on fixed-odds betting terminals must be a top priority for the government.”

A report in June warned gambling is now more popular among children than skateboarding
as bookmakers bombard young people with advertisements in an “uncontrolled social experiment on today’s youth”.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board said nine out of ten young people
have seen betting advertisements on TV or social media. It warned this was “normalising” gambling among children and risked drawing many into betting at a young age.

One gambler of south Asian origin from Birmingham, who wished to remain anonymous,
said: “Every other day I put in £300 to £400. I work in Tesco and do overtime.

“I get paid £700 to £800 and half of it goes in the machines.

“My family don’t know because it’s against our religion.”

Gambling Commission figures show there were 33,611 number of fixed-odds terminals in the UK in 2017. And £1.8 billion was collected by bookmakers from the machines
in 2016/17.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “The government has listened and will now implement the reduction in April 2019.”

He added that a planned increase in Remote Gaming Duty, paid by online gaming
firms, would be brought forward to April to cover the impact on the public finances.