‘Highly dangerous’ fixed-odds betting terminals are being targeted at some of the poorest areas of Sheffield, according to the city council which is calling on government to hand authorities more powers over bookies.
The terminals – which allow gamblers to stake as much as £100 every 20 seconds – are raking in millions of pounds and have been likened to crack cocaine in their addictiveness. Figures show there were 84 fixed-odds terminals in Sheffield centre across 23 betting shops between April 2011 and March 2012, with 44 in Heeley across 12 bookies, and 55 in south-east Sheffield, including areas like Darnall, across 15 betting shops. But in areas like Hallam, the figures show only 15 across four bookies, suggesting betting shops are targeting the least wealthy parts of the city.
Legislation limits bookies to a maximum of four fixed-odds terminals per store.
This has led many to get round the rules by opening multiple shops, often in close proximity, according to Coun Leigh Bramall.
His motion for more powers to control the number of betting shops was backed by the full council.
It comes as one compulsive gambler in Sheffield revealed he took out 13 bank loans and ended up behind bars after stealing more than £300,000 from work to feed his addiction.
Coun Bramall said there is ‘growing concern’ about the ‘detrimental effect’ it is having on cities like Sheffield.
Current planning laws mean bookmakers do not have to seek permission from the council before converting units to betting stores, leading to an explosion in numbers.
Single-staffing in many bookmakers, which often means only one member of staff overseeing an entire store, he says, is also making it difficult for betting stores to monitor customers’ behaviour and prevent them gambling too much.
The machines were dubbed ‘highly dangerous’ by compulsive gambler Matthew Kettell, from north Sheffield, who spent thousands of pounds on one in a matter of minutes.
“I would describe myself as a normal person but put me in a gambling situation and I’m a complete idiot,” he said. “No win seems big enough.”
Coun Bramall said: “Not only do these fixed-odds betting terminals create problems for communities already struggling with issues such as high unemployment, but they are also denying local shops and businesses money.
“We are not anti-gambling, this is not some moralistic crusade. All we are saying is there seems to be growing evidence that fixed-odds betting terminals are particularly addictive.
“£120 in 20 seconds is crazy.
“I don’t think these terminals are being monitored properly.
“We can’t control the number of betting shops due to planning laws. They are classed as financial services, lumped in with banks and building societies.
“All we are saying is give councils greater powers to control the number of betting shops just as we do with other shops.”
Sheffield councillors passed Coun Bramall’s motion at their latest full council meeting, and will now write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles about the issue.