Councils demand greater powers to limit high street bookmakers

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Councils have called for the Government to reduce the maximum stakes on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) which can see punters lose hundreds of pounds a minute.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the £100 maximum stake on the machines should be slashed and also urged for greater powers to limit the number of bookmakers on high streets.

Town halls also want licensing laws to be updated to allow councils to take health issues associated with problem gambling and anti-social behaviour concerns into account when considering applications from betting shops.

The LGA want the £100 maximum stake on FOBTs to be brought in line with other gaming machines on the high street, where the top stake is £2, or casinos where it is £5.

The issue will be debated in Parliament amid signs that MPs back curbs on FOBTs - but bookmakers insist that betting shops are the safest place to gamble and councils already have sufficient powers.

A ComRes survey of 150 MPs between February 25 and April 6 found 107 (72%) agreed or strongly agreed that there is a need for greater government regulation.

Councillor Simon Blackburn, chairman of the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said: "Councils up and down the country are worried about the number of high stakes FOBTs and betting shops on our high streets, and are frustrated by the lack of powers they have to curb them.

"The higher stakes permitted on FOBTs is significantly out of line with other high street gambling machines and the harm and anti-social behaviour they can cause has become an issue of growing national concern.

"Someone playing on a machine can lose £100 in a matter of seconds in a single play on an FOBT. This is money many people can't afford to lose and needs to be looked at again.

"A triennial review of machine stakes is overdue, and with two-thirds of MPs calling for tougher regulation of FOBTs, we urge the Government to honour its previous commitment and launch a review of stakes at the earliest opportunity.

"Bringing stakes in line with other gaming machines in betting shops and elsewhere on high streets and casinos, would help to protect those at risk from problem gambling, and would be an important step in the right direction.

"Councils are not anti-bookies but a new cumulative impact test would give them the power to veto new shops - and FOBTs - in areas already saturated by betting shops."

The Association of British Bookmakers said in a statement: "Betting shops are the safest place to gamble, and we work closely with local councils all across the country, and with the Local Government Association itself, on a variety of issues and community initiatives.

"The Government made a decision last July to leave stakes and prizes on gaming machines as they are, noting that local authorities already have sufficient powers, via the licensing process, to manage the presence of betting shops on the high street."

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: "The Government will continue to monitor the effectiveness of existing gambling controls and will take further action if necessary. We will set out our views on a review of stakes and prizes of gaming machines in due course."