CALLS have been made for new powers to be introduced to control the spread of betting machines dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling”.
Ian Gilbert, leader of Southend Council’s Labour group and Parliamentary candidate for Rochford and Southend East, has called for new powers so local authorities can limit the number of fixed odds betting terminals, which allow gamblers to bet up to £300 a minute on high streets.
There are 19 betting shops in the Rochford and Southend East area and 11 in Southend West, with an estimated 120 terminals where people can bet up to £18,000 an hour.
Mr Gilbert said: “Gambling can be a fun pastime for millions of people.
“Indeed, I gamble from time to time myself, so I am not a moral puritan on the issue.
“However, over the past few years the proliferation of betting shops, gambling adverts, personalised gambling platforms and fixed odds betting terminals has contributed to an ever-growing gambling addiction problem.
“The clustering of betting shops can cause enormous harm to our community. This is why I’m backing Labour leader Ed Miliband’s plans to empower local people and local authorities to decide whether they want betting shops and fixed odds terminals on their high streets.
“The time has come to give local people and local authorities the right to decide if they want their high streets to be the place for high stakes, high speed and high cost gambling.”
Matt Zarb-Cousin, of Southend, is one of the founder members of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. He fears the opportunity to gamble so much money so quickly in high street betting shops is normalising activities usually confined to casinos and contributing to gambling addiction.
He said: “We are the only country in the world that allows stakes of up to £100 on the high street.
“They don’t belong on the high street. They are casino gaming machines.”
Mr Zarb-Cousin backed the call for councils to get more powers – but went further, calling on the Government to force betting shops to lower maximum stakes.
He said: “I support new powers, but I think there is no reason betting shops should have gaming machines with stakes above £2.
“If you give local authorities the power to limit them, that’s great, but central Government should reduce the maximum stakes.”