FOUR of the country's big-gest bookmakers have joined forces in a bid to protect thousands of vulnerable gamblers.

William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and Paddy Power have committed to a package of measures launched to address public concerns about the industry.

The most recent Scottish Health Survey found that there were 31,000 'problem gamblers' in Scotland.

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The report also claimed that four times as many were at some risk of harm as a result of their gambling behaviour. The campaign will promote responsible gambling while curtailing the proliferation of excessive promotions.

The move comes after calls for action to tackle issues including the amount staked on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) and children being exposed to gambling adverts.

Richard Glynn, chief executive of Ladbrokes, said: "Gambling has long been a leisure pursuit and part of the cultural fabric of the UK, but we are alive to the con-cerns of the public to keep gambling a responsible and fun activity."

Patrick Kennedy, chief executive of Paddy Power, added: "Putting responsible gambling at the heart of our business is simply the right thing to do."

The key measures pro-posed, which will come into force on October 1, include a voluntary ban on sign-up offers such as free bets and free money on TV before 9pm.

They will also withdraw all advertising relating to gaming machines from betting shop windows, while dedicating 20 per cent of shop window advertising to responsible gambling messages.

The companies are also pledging that from January a new independent body called the Senet Group will be established to hold the industry to account.

It will be headed by an independent standards commissioner and aim to protect "vulnerable" gamb-lers, as well as having the power to "name and shame" or fine operators in breach of codes of practice.

The chief executive of William Hill James Henderson, said the launch of the Senet Group would 'set a benchmark by which we and the betting industry can be judged'.