IT'S lunchtime in a bookmaker's in Glasgow's Saracen Street but none of the punters are taking a break to eat. Television screens are showing horse and dog racing from all over the planet, where a knowledge of form and the going underfoot is an advantage, but also virtual races, where it's all created on computers and played out artificially on screen. The shop's four gambling terminals, where you can lose up to £300 a minute if your greed and desperation trump your sense, are being constantly fed.

These machines – officially termed Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, FOBTs, or better known to the rest of us as the "puggies" – are either the salvation of the British betting industry, making bookies £34 million a week, or the crack cocaine of gambling, hooking and addicting punters, depending on which side you take in what is an increasingly bitter political and social battle.

Campaigners want the maximum stake reduced to £2 every 20-second turn and the UK Government has indicated it will cut the £100 limit without yet specifying to what level. However, the industry argues, through its trade body the Association of British Bookmakers, that it has the most advanced and robust protection measures in the world.

Glasgow is Britain's gambling's epicentre. Punters in the city bet more than any other place in the country. In 2016 almost £750m was wagered. There are 222 betting shops in the city, with 835 puggies (each shop is allowed a maximum of four) - way more than anywhere else in the UK.

According to industry-funded research almost one-in-four playing the machines has a gambling problem. Nick Franklin can testify to that. He has lost everything. Several times.

"I'm from a middle-class family but I fell right to the bottom," he says. "I lost my house in three months, about £100,000." He ended up homeless and living on the streets. In two decades he reckons he lost over £1m. In one pre-Christmas splurge he lost £3,500 on Coral gambling machines in 59 minutes.

Eventually things got so bad he fled the country, trying to start afresh with his wife in eastern Europe. But after seven months of "cold turkey" he blew another £100,000 on the machines.

He's now a prominent campaigner against the terminals. "If you lump together all electronic gambling machines the majority of the profit is coming from addicts who simply can't afford it. They [the bookies] are targeting the poorer sectors of society and that's evident when you see where they locate the shops."

He's scathing about the gambling industry's self-policing measures and wants bookmakers to be forced to impose upfront "affordability checks, just like banks do" on customers. He's meeting with RBS in Edinburgh in ten days to try to impress on them that they could do more, through blocking customers' cards, or payments to gambling firms, but he doesn't sound overly hopeful.

And while he supports any measure to reduce the maximum stake, he says, "even at £2 a go it's still an addiction."

James Boyle (not his real name) doesn't think he has an addiction, but he doesn't want to admit to his wife and family how much he spends "on the puggies". I catch up with him just after he has lost £50 on roulette in a bookies in Glasgow's East End. He's in his mid-50s, in an out of jobs, taking bar work when he can find it, supplementing the benefits he claims for him and his three kids. His wife works as a cleaner, he doesn't want to say where in case it identifies her, and him.

"When I was younger I was working regular and I'd have a few bets on the horses and the football, but it wasn't as if it was all that regular," he says. "But it's so much easier now, it's everywhere, on the internet, streets are hoachin with bookies, that and pound shops."

If he had to total it up, the wins and losses, how would it come out? "Now you're asking. And I don't really want to answer that."

Matt Zard-Cousin is the public face of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling which has campaigned to reduced the stake on FOBTs to £2. "The suicide rate for gambling addiction is higher than in other addictions," he says, "and these machines are the most harmful, because of the high stake and the speed of play."

He adds: "Two pounds is the maximum in bingo halls and arcades which the government has ruled is the acceptable limit. So why not in bookies?"

He's confident that it will be imposed, and that the announcement could be this week.


FOUR years ago this month Lee Murphy, a gambling addict, killed himself after losing to up to £30,000 in a year on betting terminals. He was 38.

Three months earlier he had tried, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide, which is when his partner of seven years,Wendy Bendel, first became aware of the extent of the problem. He admitted to a 20-year gambling addiction and in a letter to his partner vowed to beat it, calling it "shameful. Embarrassing. Deceitful. A killer."

She says: "I didn't realise the severity of the problem until then and how quickly you could lose money." It's so hard to tell, she says. "With a gambling addiction there are no signs. With other addictions, like alcohol or drugs you can tell, the smell, the eyes, but not with this."

An hour after being discharged after his first suicide attempt Murphy was back in a betting shop playing the machines. Finally, after losing £900 on roulette in less than 20 minutes in an Aberdeen casino he left, later texting, "I love you" to his partner. His body was found the next day.

Bendel, who lives in Inverurie, is a zealous campaigner against the betting industry. She doesn't believe it is serious about self-regulation, when the in-house terminals are so profitable. She wants all bookmakers to be compelled to have swipe cards for gamblers to gain admittance to premises - these would also provide a check on how much is being spent.

She supports the £2 limit, if reluctantly. "In an ideal world they [terminals] wouldn't be there and Lee would be here. Taking the limit down to £2 does lessen the addiction significantly because it lessens the opportunity to win...I'm fighting because I don't want there to be any more Wendys, no more Lees."


There are 33,612 terminals in the UK with a gross gambling yield of £1.8bn.

They were introduced in 1999 and initially were not classed as gaming machines so there was no limit on where they could be placed and in what numbers.

Following a change in legislation there is now a maximum of four per premises with the maximum stake on a single bet £100, and a maximum prize of £500.

The amount lost on FOBTs has increased by 73 per cent since 2009. Gamblers losses increased by £57m in one year in 2016, the latest figures.

Each machine brings in on average £52,887 a year.

Scottish ministers have the power to vary the number of machines in a shop.


Former soldier, Fraser Howie, racked up thousands of pounds of gambling debts after a head injury led him to develop an addictive personality.

He is now calling for access to online gambling sites to be toughened up after he was left with £12,000 of debt.

The 25-year-old from Paisley, claimed injuries he sustained in a car crash when he was 18 and home on leave radically altered his personality. He claimed he developed an addictive personality disorder and behaviour issues as a result.

He said: "I was completely oblivious to my gambling addiction - I just thought I was playing online games but had no idea it was causing such huge problems. I couldn't get bookies to waive the debts so that's why they need to change how their platforms are accessed so brain injury survivors don't suffer more than they already have."

Dr Fraser Morrison, consultant clinical psychologist with Alba Psychology, helped with Howie's recovery.

He said: "Fraser's ABI (acquired brain injury) was a diffused injury where a whole area like the frontal lobe is affected rather than one precise part.

"In these cases it causes difficulties in planning, short-term memory, multi-tasking, or triggers addictive behaviour. But Fraser is a great example of how ABI survivors can recover and thrive."