Slot ma­chine ad­dicts lead ‘des­per­ate’ life in book­ies

Gam­bler claims staff let play­ers spend hours on ma­chines

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS - By Robert Cum­ber

A GAM­BLING ad­dict has blown the lid on the ‘shock­ing re­al­ity’ be­hind the con­tro­ver­sial slot ma­chines cost­ing pun­ters in Houn­slow an es­ti­mated £2.8 mil­lion last year.

He de­scribed how he left a book­mak­ers in Houn­slow town cen­tre feel­ing ‘dizzy, tired and phys­i­cally sick’ af­ter a mam­moth ses­sion on its fixed odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals (FOBT) – widely re­ferred to as the crack co­caine of gam­bling.

He said he had spent seven-and-a-half hours con­tin­u­ously pump­ing money into the ma­chines at Lad­brokes, in Houn­slow High Street.

Dur­ing that time he claimed staff only spoke to him to of­fer tea or coffee, and failed to ask about his well­be­ing.

The gam­bler, who wishes to re­main anony­mous, said he saw no ev­i­dence of re­spon­si­ble gam­bling mea­sures the com­pany claims to have in­tro­duced, in­clud­ing a com­mit­ment to mon­i­tor ex­ces­sive play.

Dur­ing his ses­sion in the branch he said he saw anger and ag­gres­sion to­wards the ma­chines and staff from fel­low play­ers who had lost vast sums, plus crowds gath­er­ing be­hind a player who be­came vis­i­bly dis-tressed as he lost £900 in half an hour.

De­spite what he de­scribed as an at­mos­phere of ‘des­per­a­tion, de­pres­sion and in­tim­i­da­tion’, akin to peo­ple seek­ing their fix in a drugs den, he added floor staff only ap­proached the ma­chines once – when a player be­gan punch­ing the screen.

“When I left I felt dizzy, tired and physi-cally sick from the length of time I was star­ing at mov­ing graph­ics on a screen, and the men­tal pres­sure of los­ing and win­ning large sums of money,” he told the Chron­i­cle. “That’s not par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing af­ter watch­ing ap­prox­i­mately 1,350 vir­tual ‘spins’ of a roulette wheel in a row with no one ask­ing if I was okay.”

The gam­bler, who lives in Rich­mond and works as a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive, claimed Lad­brokes was not alone in hav­ing lax con­trols and he would have ex­pected a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence had he cho­sen to visit any of the other book­mak­ers in the town cen­tre that day.

A spokesman for Lad­brokes said: “We take re­spon­si­ble gam­bling very se­ri­ously and de­spite gam­bling-re­lated harm across the bet­ting in­dus­try re­main­ing low, we are con­tin­u­ing to im­ple­ment mea­sures to help those who may de­velop gam­bling-re­lated prob­lems.

“We have looked into th­ese claims and while some of the sta­tis­tics seem to be ex­ag­ger­ated, we recog­nise that [the in­di­vid­ual] has prob­lems with his gam­bling and have there­fore shared the de­tails of our multi- op­er­a­tor self-ex­clu­sion scheme with him.”

Houn­slow town cen­tre has been high­lighted as one of the UK’s hot spots for FOBTs by the Cam­paign for Fairer Gam­bling. It es­ti­mates pun­ters lost £2.8m on the ma­chines last year in Houn­slow High Street, where there are 44 such ter­mi­nals op­er­at­ing in 11 book­mak­ers.

The gam­bler, who con­tacted us, said the pro­lif­er­a­tion of pay day loan com­pa­nies and pawn­bro­kers in the town was no co­in­ci­dence, given the abun­dance of FOBTs on their doorstep.

He said he was able to man­age his ad­dic­tion to a de­gree, en­abling him to hold down a high-pow­ered job, as his salary was paid into his wife’s ac­count, who lim­its his ac­cess to cash.

He added: “I would com­pare life as an FOBT ad­dict to car­ry­ing a heavy bowl­ing ball on your back ev­ery­where you go. It’s the Gov-ern­ment-taxed equiv­a­lent of drugs.”

A spokesman for the Cam­paign for Fairer Gam­bling, said: “Re­duc­ing the max­i­mum stake to £2 a spin would re­duce the harm FOBTs cause, as it would pre­vent users stak­ing up be­yond their means.”

Po­lice in Houn­slow said they had been called to a num­ber of crim­i­nal dam­age in­ci­dents at book­mak­ers, where an­gry pun­ters had taken out their frus­tra­tion on ma­chines that had swal­lowed their money.

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