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Glasgow gamblers put £800m each year into slot machines

GAMBLERS in Scotland's biggest city spent more than £800 million to feed slot machines in one year.

At the same time the number of bookmakers in Glasgow leapt by one-fifth as Scots became addicted to the casino machines.

New figures show there are now 250 betting shops in the city, up from 210 shortly after gaming laws were loosened in 2005.

Campaigners blame the rise on gaming firms expanding in poor areas where fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) - widely dubbed the "crack cocaine of gambling" - are most popular.

Adrian Parkinson, the bookmaking executive who brought the machines to Glasgow and is now a consultant with anti-FOBT group Fairer Gambling, said: "The fact that you have a 20% uplift in the number of bookies in a period of seven years backs up what we have been saying: bookmakers are targeting certain areas."

Both FOBTs, which have a variety of old fashioned puggy-style slot games, and casino games such as roulette and blackjack, have boomed since Labour liberalised gambling legislation in 2005.

The party's leader Ed Miliband has since called for a rethink of the policy after grassroots concerns mounted from some of Britain's poorest cities, such as Liverpool.

But it is Glasgow, not Liverpool, where most is wagered on the machines and a total of £1400 in bets per capita was played on FOBTS in the city in 2011-12. The total spent is more than £800m a year - although money wagered includes money won in play.

The industry response has been expansion as bookies, each allowed up to four FOBTs, replace hairdressers and butchers in high streets in Glasgow's most vulnerable communities.

Many end up just doors away from payday lenders, cheque-cashing counters and pawn shops - which are also booming thanks to the same low regulation and austerity fuelling gambling.

Local authorities are practically powerless to use licensing or planning laws to restrict such businesses.

Mr Parkinson, from Fairer Gambling, added: "The bookmaking sector denies there is any increase in the number of betting shops. However, we believe there is an explosion in their number in certain areas - but a decrease in other areas. Bookmakers are coalescing around certain areas that are more profitable in terms of FOBTs and moving out of other areas where FOBTs are not as appealing. The truth is that FOBTs do not appeal to somebody who is more affluent."

Glasgow's City Treasurer Paul Rooney is one of the Labour councillors across the UK who has been lobbying his party - and governments in Holyrood and Westminster - to change course of FOBTs.

He said: "The days of all bookies as places full of smoke and TV screens where guys put wee bets on horses and football have gone. Now many are empty apart from some guys milling around puggies.

"There hasn't been a 20% rise in the number of bookies because people are queuing out the door to put on their football coupon - it's about getting another 150 high stakes, high-speed gambling machines into the city.

"That is a huge increase in provision we just didn't need."

The Association of British Bookmakers is running a campaign called "Back Your Local Bookie" and believes in the betting shop as a community hub.

A spokesman said: "Every single betting shop in Glasgow is licensed to be open by the City Council, and no betting shop anywhere in the country can open without a licence.

"Just as is the case with any other retailer, a betting shop will open in response to and meet customer demand. Gaming machines themselves have been in shops for 12 years, so are not new products, but they are very popular with our eight million customers"

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