Daily Mail

How COULD High Street bet­ting shops let a school­boy gam­ble on ‘crack co­caine’ machines?

We put gam­ing giants’ 18+ age rules to the test. Now read the hor­ri­fy­ing re­sult...

- By Richard Pendle­bury London · London Borough of Newham · Royal Thai Police · Gambling Commission · William Hill · United Kingdom · Mayfair, London · London Borough of Hackney · organization · Sheffield · Denise Coates · Bet365 · East Ham · Ladbrokes · Dalston · Kingsland Road · Zhongguo Zhongyang Dianshitai · Kingsland, AR · Dundalk · Charles Ritchie, 1st Baron Ritchie of Dundee · MARC Train · Chadlington · Kenneth Cooper Alexander · GVC Holdings

East Ham, Lon­don, on a cold, wet Fri­day at 4.35pm. the pave­ments are crowded with chil­dren on their way home from school, the Mus­lim faith­ful in tra­di­tional dress com­ing from Fri­day prayers, and com­muters spilling out from the tube.

Ne­wham is one of Lon­don’s poor­est ar­eas, with more chil­dren liv­ing in poverty — al­most 37,000 — than any other bor­ough.

Money is scarce, yet like croc­o­diles at a wa­ter­hole the High street bet­ting in­dus­try lurks to snap up what is to spare — and in­deed what is not.

Five years ago, lo­cal coun­cil­lors claimed Ne­wham High street North had more book­mak­ers than any other in the coun­try. there were 18 in to­tal, and 80 in the bor­ough as a whole.

they are very much a pres­ence to­day and a mag­net for those who can’t re­sist the siren call of the fixed-odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals which of­fer in­stant re­wards, but in re­al­ity of­ten cause mis­ery be­cause pun­ters can lose up to £300 in a minute.

No other gam­ing ma­chine has such high speeds or high stakes. Com­pared with the old-fash­ioned fruit machines, they are like a shot of crack co­caine.

such is the ca­pac­ity for ad­dic­tion, and the rage sparked by sud­den and heavy losses, that the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice have recorded hun­dreds of vi­o­lent in­ci­dents — in­clud­ing as­sault — linked to these ter­mi­nals, as well as sui­cides.

Which is why al­low­ing un­der-age school­child­ren any­where near them is so dan­ger­ous. Last month, a land­mark Gam­bling Com­mis­sion re­port re­vealed the num­ber of prob­lem gam­blers aged 11 to 16 has quadru­pled in two years to 55,000.

It found that 450,000 chil­dren — one in seven of the 11-16 age group — was gam­bling reg­u­larly.

so just how rig­or­ous are the bet­ting com­pa­nies in polic­ing the age of their clients? to find out, I ven­tured into Ne­wham, as well as other ar­eas of Lon­don, with a 17-year-old named tom.

Young for his age, he had never been in a bet­ting shop be­fore, nor tried to buy a drink in a pub. Both ac­tiv­i­ties would be against the law be­cause he is not yet 18.

In each bet­ting shop, tom would try to play the fixed-odd bet­ting ter­mi­nals (FOBts). If he was al­lowed to do that un­chal­lenged, we agreed he would then ap­proach staff face-to-face and ask them to split a £10 or £20 note so he could gam­ble more.

the most star­tling — and dis­turb­ing — find­ing of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion is that of the three ma­jor chains that al­lowed him to bet, Wil­liam Hill, Paddy Power and Lad­brokes Co­ral, it was the lat­ter, Bri­tain’s biggest High street bet­ting com­pany, that was most lax.

shock­ingly, in around two-thirds — 63pc — of the Lad­brokes premises our school­boy vis­ited, staff al­lowed him to play the FOBts. In one in­stance, he lost £40 in five min­utes.

Yet as­ton­ish­ingly, when con­fronted with our ev­i­dence, the bet­ting in­dus­try’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive body ex­pressed con­cern not that the law for­bid­ding un­der- age gam­bling had been breached, but that our in­ves­ti­ga­tion had been car­ried out at all.

at the first stop on our in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Lad­brokes on High street North, close to East Ham tube sta­tion, one wall is lined en­tirely with FOBts. tom walks in un­chal­lenged. He takes a seat in front of a roulette-style game and be­gins to play. He is soon £7.20 up, but in just five spins loses the £20 stake he started with.

tom plays on un­in­ter­rupted, be­fore mak­ing his pres­ence felt to see if he is asked for ID.

‘Can you change this £20 into two tens?’ tom asks the cashier. Yes, he can. and there’s no de­mand to see tom’s ID. When we move to a sec­ond Lad­brokes on High street North, tom is stopped with a po­lite ‘ex­cuse me, can I see your ID?’ from the fe­male cashier. that is good prac­tice, but five nights later at the Lad­brokes branch in Mad­dox street, May­fair, there is another egre­gious lapse.

the bet­ting shop is al­most empty, with two staff present — one of whom is on the phone — and tom set­tles down to play a roulette-style FOBt.

Now, the pat­tern of what hap­pens when you play these machines be­gins to emerge as tom loses £10 in just one minute.

the dan­ger for reg­u­lar gam­blers, and cer­tainly chil­dren who do not have the ma­tu­rity to con­trol their im­pulses, is that they’ll chase losses by push­ing more and more money into the machines. TOM could keep play­ing un­chal­lenged, but his money got wet in the rain, and the machines won’t ac­cept his £20 notes.

It’s only when he ap­proaches staff to change the notes that he is chal­lenged for his ID and then asked to leave.

Over in ar­gyll street, op­po­site the Lon­don Pal­la­dium, we find a large, sub­ter­ranean branch of Lad­brokes. It’s empty, save for two pun­ters and two women be­hind the counter.

tom strolls in and sits at a FOBt fruit ma­chine in full view of the staff. Hav­ing won ini­tially, he loses £40 in five min­utes.

Even­tu­ally, he is ap­proached by one of the women, but when he says he’s left his ID at home she al­lows him to con­tinue play­ing.

Over in Hack­ney, there is another con­cen­tra­tion of bet­ting shops in Dal­ston Junc­tion, a ward with high lev­els of poverty.

at Lad­brokes on the cor­ner of Kings­land Road and Brighton Road, two fe­male staff are chat­ting, while one sweeps up. Yet again, tom is al­lowed to play and soon loses £ 10 on a roulette ma­chine, then wins only £2 back.

It’s only when he goes to col­lect his win­nings that a cashier says: ‘You look too young.’ He is asked for his ID and asked to leave.

Nei­ther his win­nings nor what he lost are re­turned.

At two other nearby branches, Tom is spot­ted at once and asked to leave. But when we visit a lad­brokes op­po­site King’s Cross sta­tion on another evening, Tom is ig­nored and can play a ma­chine.

The woman be­hind the counter is on the phone and no one pays at­ten­tion to Tom. Only when he asks for a note to be split is he asked for ID. He has al­ready lost £10 on roulette.

last night, a lad­brokes spokesman said: ‘We take the pre­ven­tion of un­der-age gam­bling ex­tremely se­ri­ously and have a num­ber of ro­bust poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in place. These in­clude “Think 21” age ver­i­fi­ca­tion train­ing.

‘We con­tinue to achieve in­dus­trylead­ing scores from the in­de­pen­dent Serve le­gal mys­tery shop­ping pro­gramme on un­der-age gam­bling checks. A full in­ves­ti­ga­tion is be­ing car­ried out, in­clud­ing a re­view of the CCTV, train­ing logs and in­ter­view­ing the col­leagues in­volved, to en­sure we min­imise these in­ci­dences in the fu­ture.’

Dur­ing our in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we also vis­ited six Paddy Power shops, two of which al­lowed Tom to bet. There is a busy branch op­po­site the Kings­land Cen­tre in Hack­ney, with many fixed-odds machines. Tom walks in and plays a luck Of The Ir­ish ma­chine, which could hardly be more un­suit­ably named.

He is soon up £4, but then loses £10 very quickly. A mem­ber of staff oblig­ingly splits a £20 note for him so he can play some more. No ID is asked for. Fit­tingly, as this takes place, a horse called Reck­less lad wins the 6pm at Dun­dalk.

In another branch, on the cor­ner of Plashet Grove, he plays luck Of The Ir­ish again. Af­ter a few spins, ‘I was down from £10 to 50p’. He is asked to leave only when he asks the staff to split a £10 note and ad­mits he has no ID.

Of six Wil­liam Hill shops we visit, one — on a cor­ner fac­ing King’s Cross sta­tion — al­lows Tom to play. This de­spite the fact it is small and al­most empty.

He is able to gam­ble on two machines — one is luck Of The Ir­ish again. The counter staff also splits his £10 note so he can play more. We are not sur­prised when he loses his money again.

Wil­liam Hill’s re­sponse? The com­pany says it ‘com­mis­sions its own in­de­pen­dent age test­ing and is sub­ject to lo­cal author­ity and Gam­bling Com­mis­sion test­ing’.

‘On all of these tests, the com­pany scores highly com­pared to other age-re­stricted sec­tors. As re­cent Gam­bling Com­mis­sion re­search showed, most un­der-age bets are pri­vate wa­gers or bets on fruit machines in pubs, be­cause staff train­ing and age ver­i­fi­ca­tion stan­dards in bet­ting shops are high.’

We also vis­ited three branches of Bet­Fred and two of Co­ral, none of which al­lowed Tom to gam­ble.

In its state­ment to the Mail, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Bri­tish Book­mak­ers had the gall to say: ‘un­less the Daily Mail was ac­com­pa­nied by the po­lice or the Gam­bling Com­mis­sion, such sur­vey ac­tiv­ity was po­ten­tially il­le­gal un­der sec­tions 47 to 49 of the Gam­bling Act 2005.’

It con­tin­ued: ‘As an in­dus­try we have zero tol­er­ance of un­der-age gam­bling and in­vest more than £ 3 mil­lion each year in age ver­i­fi­ca­tion test­ing, car­ried out by in­de­pen­dent third- party or­gan­i­sa­tions,.

‘All those re­sults are re­ported to, and pub­lished by the Gam­bling Com­mis­sion. All our mem­bers work to a “Think 21” pol­icy.

‘Any cases where there is a breach will be fully in­ves­ti­gated.’

Yes­ter­day, when I de­scribed our ex­pe­ri­ences, the co-founders of the char­ity Gam­bling With lives were hor­ri­fied. In a joint state­ment, liz and Charles Ritchie said: ‘Our son, Jack, trag­i­cally took his life due to a gam­bling ad­dic­tion, which has deeply af­fected our fam­ily.

‘Cru­cially, he started gam­bling on FOBTs in bet­ting shops in Sh­effield while still at school, gam­bling with friends in the school lunch hour, un­der-age and un­chal­lenged. Much stronger ac­tion is re­quired to end il­le­gal un­der-age gam­bling.’ MARC ETCHES, CEO of char­ity Gam­bleAware, said: ‘ What­ever the cir­cum­stances, it is wrong that a child was able to en­ter a book­mak­ers’ shop and gam­ble.’

And lord Chadling­ton, the Tory peer and cam­paigner against gam­bling, said in re­ac­tion to the Mail’s find­ings: ‘Pro­tect­ing young peo­ple is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial.

‘Strict con­trols need to be in place, and a first step should be re­duc­ing the vol­ume of ad­ver­tis­ing to which young peo­ple are ex­posed, to avoid them be­ing en­cour­aged to gam­ble from a young age.’

Those ubiq­ui­tous gam­bling ad­verts have lu­cra­tive re­sults. Denise Coates, founder of on­line bet­ting firm Bet365, last year took home a salary of £ 265 mil­lion. Kenny Alexan­der, head of GVC Hold­ings — owner of lad­brokes — was paid £18.4 mil­lion.

The fixed-odds ter­mi­nals in par­tic­u­lar are a money-spin­ner. There are 8,406 bet­ting shops across Great Bri­tain, most of which have FOBTs, each gen­er­at­ing an av­er­age of £50,000 in an­nual rev­enue.

In May, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced the max­i­mum amount which could be staked on a FOBT would be slashed to £2 — but not un­til next au­tumn, a de­lay which saw Tracey Crouch, Min­is­ter for Sport and Civil So­ci­ety, re­sign on prin­ci­ple. The re­duc­tion has since been brought for­ward to April.

So what did our un­der-age gam­bler — who lost around £120 dur­ing his vis­its to the bet­ting shops — make of his ex­pe­ri­ence?

Tom says: ‘While I was los­ing on the fixed-odds ter­mi­nals, I strug­gled to un­der­stand what the ap­peal was.

‘But as I started to win — and I don’t mean a cou­ple of pounds here and there, but tens and twen­ties — I started to be­come in­creas­ingly reck­less, bet­ting more and more and, cru­cially, con­tin­u­ing to bet af­ter I had re­peat­edly lost.

‘ That’s when I un­der­stood why peo­ple be­come ad­dicted to bet­ting — and to these machines in par­tic­u­lar.’

It is a dev­as­tat­ing mes­sage, and one that the Gov­ern­ment, and the bet­ting com­pa­nies that rake in so many mil­lions a year, would do well to heed.

 ??  ?? Un­der-age: Tom, 17, at Lad­brokes in East Ham and (right) in­side
Un­der-age: Tom, 17, at Lad­brokes in East Ham and (right) in­side
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