The are now more than 33,000 fixed-odds betting terminals in the UK. Photograph: Alex Segre/Rex Features
Labour has deliberately toned down its attacks on bookmakers in a bid to build cross-party support ahead of Wednesday’s opposition-day vote to curb the spread of high-stakes roulette machines from betting shops, which campaigners say cause crime and lead to addiction.
Echoing a resolution that was passed by the Liberal Democrats in their party conference last year, Labour will ask MPs to back a motion that would “give local authorities the powers they need to respond to concerns from their local communities and stop the proliferation of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and betting shops”.
However, senior Tories and Lib Dems said that while they were sympathetic to Labour’s case, the government would wait for a key report – supposed to be laid before parliament early this year – into the machines before taking action.
Ed Miliband has warned that FOBTs – where punters can bet up to £300 a minute – are already “spreading like an epidemic”. In the space of a decade high-speed, high-stake machines have spread throughout the country and there are now more than 33,000 in the UK, yielding bookmakers more than £1.5bn. A number of councils, of varying political complexions, have passed motions to ban bookies from the high street.
Labour will seek to build bridges with MPs from all sides of the house by retreating from tougher language used by Miliband last month. John Whittingdale, the Tory chair of the culture, media and sport committee, said that while he would not be supporting Labour for the moment – he does “have some sympathy that local authorities should be given the ability to determine whether or not large number of bookmakers should be opening. Some of my Conservative colleagues share that view.”
Tom Watson, the former Labour chair who has led the parliamentary campaign against FOBTs, said that the motion had been inspired by the Lib Dems. He pointed out that the machines were already disrupting community life, noting that there were concerns that they were being used for money laundering and that police were called out on average 165 times a week to bookmakers in 2012-2013.
“I hope the sensitive wording of the resolution will be enough to get that section of the coalition to back the resolution,” Watson told the Guardian.
Charles Kennedy, the former Lib Dem Leader, told the BBC’s Daily Politics that although he “was in sympathy with [Labour’s] argument”, his party was committed to waiting for the conclusion of research – commissioned by a charitable trust, funded by bookmakers – into the effects of FOBTs before taking action.
However, a precursor to that work warned that researchers had found the initial results to be “data rich, information light” and this “provides insight only into a very narrow range of issues – namely those of financial transactions” rather than that of how players can get addicted.