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Easing of gambling laws leads to boom in touch-screen roulette for bookmakers 01/3/2008
Simon Bowers

Recent legislation lifting the ban on bookmakers advertising on television and allowing them extended opening hours has given a huge boost to the popularity of controversial touch-screen roulette machines in betting shops, figures from leading bookmakers revealed this week.

Ladbrokes said yesterday the changes, which came into force last September as the final part of the 2005 Gambling Act, brought a 31.8% increase in gross win - the amount lost by punters - on touch-screen terminals in its 2,200 UK betting shops for the last four months of 2007.

Over the same period, traditional "over-the-counter" bets increased by just 1.6%. Figures earlier in the week showed a similar trend at William Hill.

This month the sports minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, said the government had asked the Gambling Commission to review the impact of these machines. This was in the light of the commission's earlier study which found that one in nine of those who played the roulette terminals were problem gamblers. The commission is expected to report by April next year.

For 2007, Ladbrokes' UK betting shop machine gross win grew by 21% to £248m, with an average weekly take per machine of £585, compared with £481 for 2006.

Bets over the counter fell last year by 3.8% to £491m. Punters were attracted away from traditional sports bets by better odds and lower skill requirements offered by machines. One pound in three lost to Ladbrokes during 2007 was through a gaming terminal.

The chief executive, Chris Bell, said he would be stepping up advertising this year after a TV campaign featuring former football stars Ian Wright, Lee Dixon, Ally McCoist and Jimmy Hill. The ad had been the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, with claims it portrayed gambling as a way to gain admiration. The ASA cleared Ladbrokes.

Overall, Ladbrokes reported gross win up 30% at £1.29bn for last year.
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