Reform concerns over new minister

Adrian Parkinson
Adrian Parkinson

A GAMBLING campaigner from Wigan lobbying for reforms has reacted with dismay at the appointment of the new culture secretary.

Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed John Whittingdale in the cabinet role last week, replacing Sajid Javid.

But representatives from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling are concerned about Mr Whittingdale’s history of supporting the use of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and the relaxation of gambling laws.

Dubbed the crack-cocaine of gambling, the quick-play roulette machines can take up to £100 from gamblers every 20 seconds.

Wigan campaigner Adrian Parkinson said: “Putting a man in charge of gambling and FOBTs with the views Whittingdale holds is either a completely inept decision on the part of the Prime Minister or deliberate.

“John Whittingdale needs to come clean about his intentions toward FOBTs and betting shops.”

Fellow campaigners have also warned the machines could be introduced in bingo halls, motorway services and amusement arcades.

Prior to the election, the Labour Party had pledged to crack down on FOBTs with local authorities handed the power to ban them in response to “local concerns”.

And Wigan Council last year backed calls to reduce the stakes, joining fellow local authorities in Preston, Liverpool and Manchester in doing so.

Shock figures released earlier this year from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling showed Wiganers had piled £40m into FOBTs last year.

Commenting on those figures, Mr Parkinson, said: “Our latest analysis estimates just under 9,000 FOBT users across Wigan, Leigh and Makerfield with around 2,000 experiencing problems as a result.

“Those experiencing problematic gambling on these £100 spin machines could suffer financial, work or relationship issues as a consequence.

“We have to face up to the root of the problem - the high stakes.

Speaking at a 2013 gambling trade conference, Mr Whittingdale is reported to have said: “The claims of addiction and damage they cause are unproven. We need empirical evidence that they aren’t as addictive as the anti-FOBT lobby make out.”

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has said government policy on FOBTs has not changed.