Whilst I welcome the UK Government’s decision to abandon its delays in implementing maximum £2 stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), it is a pity that it has taken so long to get this far. The reduction in the maximum stake for FOBTs will now go ahead in April 2019.
There are 137 of these machines in North Ayrshire, the “crack-cocaine” of gambling, in 37 betting shops. In 2016 alone, North Ayrshire saw £5m being lost on these machines.
Yesterday, I participated in the Finance Bill debate where I urged the UK Government to ensure that problem gambling requires a public health approach.
We also need to ensure that a public health approach addresses the effects of gambling on young among those who are potentially vulnerable, as well as the effects of gambling on families, the wider community as well as on the gamblers themselves. In Scotland conservative estimates suggest we have around 30,000 problem gamblers and harm to them and others can include higher levels of physical and mental illness, debt problems, relationship breakdown and, in some cases, criminality. We also know that two problem gamblers each day in the UK take their own lives.
That is why a public health approach to this very serious issue is required and I am delighted to say that the UK Government has now, finally, accepted that this is the right approach to take.