Britain to crack down on 'hidden epidemic' of gambling

2 min

London (AFP)

Britain said it would tighten laws on high stakes gaming machines to protect "the most vulnerable" users by lowering maximum bets, curbing advertising and raising awareness about potential harm.

Controversial machines currently allowing players to gamble up to £100 (114 euros, $132) every 20 seconds will see a reduction in their maximum stake to £50 or lower, under the new measures.

High-speed betting terminals offering fixed odds (FOBTs) have surged into low-income areas since gambling laws were loosened in 2007.

The social group most likely to wager the full £100 are the unemployed, according to research by charity GambleAware, highlighted in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's review.

A lucrative gambling industry which provides 53,000 people with employment in betting shops relies on FOBTs as a key source of revenue.

"It is vital that we strike the right balance between socially responsible growth and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, from gambling-related harm," said gambling minister Tracey Crouch.

Tom Watson, culture spokesman for the main opposition Labour party, condemned the review as "deeply disappointing", saying "Britain is suffering from a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction".

Some 430,000 people in the UK are classed as 'problem gamblers', while 10 percent of adults gamble online.

The government's review also confirmed that new measures will be brought in to curb advertising for gambling, which has spiked since industry guidelines were loosened in 2007, coinciding with a rise in the number of children gambling online.

Gambling operators have also been asked to fund £5 million to £7 million per year for an awareness-raising campaign, while the Gambling Commission regulator will promote educational material, and may introduce time limits on betting.

Under 18s will no longer be able to access gambling content through social media, and staff in doctors' surgeries and charity support services will be trained to recognise the signs of problem gambling.