Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:08 pm on 22nd April 2013.

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Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford 9:08 pm, 22nd April 2013

I rise briefly to offer some cross-party support for Tom Greatrex and the concerns he has raised. I am not anti-gambling; in fact, I like more than a regular flutter, normally on the horses, not the football—I have much better sense than that. However, I have concerns about the proliferation not just of betting shops, but of the number of FOBTs in them. I am not one often to engage in tribal politics and I certainly do not want to do so on this occasion, but that is clearly a consequence of the liberalisation of gambling that we saw under the previous Government.

That said, it is incumbent on us as a responsible Government to try to reach a solution to the problem. I share the hon. Gentleman’s view about giving local authorities the opportunity to provide part of the solution. A cross-party working group on Medway council has recently produced a paper, to try to ensure that it can have a role to play in reducing the number of bookmakers on the high street. Bizarrely, Chatham high street is not in the Chatham and Aylesford constituency, but that is where the heart of some of these problems lies.

I can see the benefits of having fixed-odds betting terminals in betting shops, but I have concerns about the number of such machines in those shops and about the amount of money that can very quickly be staked, lost and won on them. That creates an incentive to people to go in and use the machines. I long for the day when I can go into my local bookies and queue up to place a bet on a horse, but, as the hon. Gentleman said, more people are playing on the machines than are filling out the card. In fact, I quite enjoy going into a bookies and shocking people when I place a bet on a horse. I do not think they expect a woman, let alone the local Member of Parliament, to walk into a bookies.

I am particularly concerned about the Medway towns, in which people are experiencing increasing levels of personal debt. It is an area of deprivation, and there are problems relating to the clustering of bookmakers, payday loan companies and pawnbrokers. This is an issue for the whole area. I therefore want to offer my support for the hon. Gentleman. Like him, I do not think that we should eradicate the machines from betting shops, but I believe that we should look carefully at limiting them or limiting the stakes that people can place on them.