Church of England calls for maximum £2 stake on betting terminals

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The Church of England is demanding changes to gambling legislation after backing a call to lower the maximum stake people can wager on fixed-odds betting terminals.

The church's national body unanimously passed a motion urging the government to bring forward proposals to reduce the amount gamblers can stake on a single game from £100 to £2.

Around 35,000 fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), or B2 machines, are found in betting shops across the UK, on which gamblers can stake a maximum of £2 for sports-based games.

But the church's General Synod in London was told casino games such as roulette available on FOBTs allow a stake of up to £100 every 20 seconds - allowing a player to theoretically gamble away £18,000 an hour.

Described as the "crack cocaine" of gambling, they take around £70 million every week, according to the Gambling Commission, often from people in some of the UK's most deprived communities.

There are also twice as many betting shops - and thus FOBTs - in the poorest 55 local authority areas than in the 15 most affluent.

In the face of increasing pressure from campaigners and politicians in both Houses of Parliament to bring forward a review on such gambling, the Government launched a consultation in October on FOBTs and their licensing in betting shops.

In a speech to the church's national assembly on Wednesday, London Diocese lay member Clive Scowen said that while players in betting shops can set their own spending limits and that tracking systems alert staff to indicators of problem gambling, research has found these to be ineffective in curbing the problem.

He said: "B2 machines feed off poverty and exacerbate it, often plunging people into unmanageable debt, bringing misery not just to the gamblers but to their families, and especially their children."

If staking levels were being set today, the Gambling Commission would advise against the £100 maximum stake on a precautionary basis, Mr Scowen said.

He told the Synod that as FOBTs are helping cause a "spiral of poverty", the church should call on the Government to act in the public interest and "protect the poor and the vulnerable".

The Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, added: "We are not debating harmless betting or harmless betting machines today but a particular very focused form of betting which has caused huge suffering."

The Synod welcomed the Government's review of the maximum stake for FOBT machines and voted unanimously to urge it "as a matter of urgency" to bring forward proposals to amend legislation reducing maximum stakes for single games from £100 to £2.

It also called on politicians to grant local authorities powers to make provision about the number and locations of FOBTs.