Gamblers in the poorest areas of the UK are spending more than £5 billion year on fixed-odds machines, new figures have revealed.
The virtual casino-style terminals can be found in betting shops up and down the country, but it is those in areas of the country with the highest levels of unemployment that are feeding the machines, staking four times those in more affluent areas.
Statistics compiled by the campaign group Fairer Gambling showed that residents of the 50 parliamentary constituencies with the highest levels of unemployment put £5.6 billion into 4,454 machines last year, compared to £1.4 billion spent 1,045 machines in the 50 constituencies with greater employment figures.
The touch screen terminals, which have previously been described as the "crack cocaine" of gambling, offer games such as virtual roulette, allowing punters to stake as much as £100 on a single spin in a bid to win up to £500.
And the Mail reports that it's possible for desperate gamblers to fork out up to £18,000 an hour as they attempt to recover with a big win.
Though bookmakers are currently limited to four machines per shop, the number of terminals in the UK has more than doubled since 2007.
According to the Daily Mail, Labour MP Dianne Abbott, whose Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency saw £195 million staked on the virtuals games, said: "It's a business model which sucks money from the poorest communities."
But the Association of British Bookmakers insisted: "The idea that bookmakers target vulnerable communities is both false and offensive.
"Like any other retailer, we locate our shops where footfall is high and rents are affordable. These factors vary, which explains why there can be different numbers of shops in different parts of the country."
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