Slot machine addicts lead ‘desperate’ life in bookies
Gambler claims staff let players spend hours on machines
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.