Yesterday as Sports Minister Tracey Crouch handed in her resignation, putting her principles over the government’s delays to a crack down on maximum stakes for fixed odds betting machines I trawled Brighton’s betting shops with a gambling addict because gambling is the theme of my next novel. Tracey Crouch lobbied for the change to be made earlier than the planned date of October 2019 and quit after ministers refused to budge.
The maximum stake is currently £100. It’s possible to gamble away £100 in just 20 seconds. I played on the machines but I was careful not to put in more than a tenner. I came home feeling energised by the lure of the sounds, the roll of the white ball as it skittles around the roulette wheel. I don’t have an addictive nature but I can see why so many are addicted. They have been dubbed the ‘crack cocaine’ of betting machines because they are highly addictive. This stake will be cut to £2, but not until next October. It should happen now, a year away is a disgusting delay when you consider the misery these machines are inflicting on thousands of people up and down the country. Betting shops are only allowed to have four of these terminals per shop and because of this betting shops have sprung up on virtually every shopping street across Britain in the past few years. The betting companies argue that the reduced stake will lead to thousands of job losses. Quite possibly, but this is a brutal industry with little concern for the plight of the punter who leaves their establishment with no money left to put food on the table, no money for Christmas presents for the kids, risking the roof over their heads, pouring benefit money into those evil machines. And it suits the government to delay the implementation of the reduced stake because of the millions it scoops in tax revenue from these machines. The reduced stake will leave a gaping hole in the budget, denying money to vital services.
I had a relationship with a man who was addicted to these machines. These machines have nearly destroyed his life. He’s been homeless, he’s gambled rent money and he’s nearly taken his life. Something needs to be done now, not in a years’ time. These machines are gas guzzlers and a very different experience to the other forms of gambling found in a betting shop where there is an element of delay involved, such as betting on the horses or a football machine.
My novel is due to come out in the Spring and will highlight in Ken Loach style the explosion of gambling in the UK and what it’s doing to families and individuals. We must do more to address this addiction on so many levels. It has to be taken as seriously as drugs and alcohol addiction. I hope my new novel will get you thinking…