The money lost by British gamblers will exceed £10bn annually
next year - a rise of 50% in nine years, and the biggest jump since the
The losses have been driven by abolition of betting duty, the
emergence of online betting, poker and casino sites, and a steady unwinding of
regulatory constraints. But the biggest single drain comes from a new type of
slot machine, offering video roulette in betting shops.
label the terminals the "crack cocaine of gambling". Estimates produced for the
Guardian by a leading government adviser show £650m a year is taken from
punters by the terminals - a sum almost matching the conventional casino
industry's entire takings.
Odds Betting Terminal
The Gambling Commission,
the industry's new regulator, this month said in a report that one in nine
people who played touch-screen roulette were classified as addictive or problem
gamblers - the strongest link in any form of gambling.
pledges to ban the terminals, the government pushed through its Gambling Act in
2005 legitimising betting shop roulette and bringing it under the commission.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport last night insisted: "[Roulette
machines] are still on probation. We will monitor them closely."
Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, said: "Gordon Brown has used [abandoning]
the supercasino as a red herring - as the report shows, the real cause of
problem gambling lies with betting shop roulette machines and internet
gambling, and the Gambling Act has failed to address either of these. We need a
clear strategy from the government"
One in four calls to a helpline
charity, Gamcare, are over betting shop roulette. Anthony Jennens, its
chairman, said: "They're easily accessible, rapid-play, and you win or lose
rapid rewards - hallmarks of games which tend to addiction."
Vaughan Williams of Nottingham Business School said British punters lose
£9.5bn a year across all gambling- a 36% rise on £7bn lost in 1999,
the year online gambling emerged. Excluding the lottery - the "softest" form of
gambling - the annual loss from hard gambling widened by 56% in eight years to
An adviser to both the culture department and to Revenue
& Customs, Professor Vaughan Williams, said deregulation and online
innovation will fuel the boom next year. He conservatively predicts the losses
will exceed £10bn for 2008.
This sits uncomfortably with the
government claim that the 2005 act had "protection of the public, especially
children and the vulnerable" as its "top priority".
The boom started
with emergence of online wagering, but was boosted by Gordon Brown's abolishing
betting duty in 2001. "If you cut the price of anything you are going to get
more of it - and the price of gambling has dropped," said Prof Vaughan
Williams. The most dramatic craze due to the tax change was touch-screen
roulette. He estimates the 24,500 UK terminals take £650m a year.
David Harding, outgoing chief executive of William Hill, confirms that
one in three pounds lost by his punters is touch-screen roulette. Just over
half of all terminals belong to Ladbrokes and William Hill; together they take
£420m a year.
The craze was not anticipated by ministers, who
initially reacted by declaring the terminals "unlawful" hard gaming not
permitted outside casinos. But they were legitimised by the 2005 act.
The Association of British Bookmakers said last night: "Our machines
are fully regulated now: they are licensed."