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'These machines destroyed my life': calls for tighter regulation of the machines dubbed the crack cocaine of gambling

The Fixed Odds Betting Terminal, or FOBT. Credit: ITV News

A man who says he lost his home, his career, and his relationships after getting addicted to one of the betting industry's most controversial gaming machines has supported a campaign for more regulation.

Hussain Vorajee from Gloucester says the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, or FOBTs, "destroyed his life". Since becoming addicted in 2002, he says he has lost more than a million pounds.

Just to walk in and be able to put on £100, it has to stop now. It's destroyed my life and I don't want to see other lives destroyed.

– Hussain Vorajee

If I could turn the back the clock I just wish I had never seen these machines. That's why we call it the crack cocaine of gambling and I think it's worse than crack cocaine.

I was drawn into the world of gaming machines and I could not stop. It was just continuous, on a daily basis, day and night. I could not concentrate on family life, you're just in your own world.

– Hussain Vorajee

FOBTs: "The crack cocaine of gambling"

Hussain says he wasn't a big gamer until the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals were introduced in the early 2000s.

Betting shops can contain up to four FOBTs by law, and there are thought to be almost 1500 of them in towns and cities across the West Country.

Players can bet up to £100 a game, the maximum win is £500. Credit: ITV News

They contain games such as roulette, and unlike fruit machines, where stakes are limited to £2, gamblers can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds.

You can win up to £500 a game, but the fast turnaround also means people can lost a day's pay in a matter of minutes.

Players can set limits on how long they want to play. Credit: ITV News

For most people, the FOBTs are a place where they enjoy a harmless flutter. But addiction is a growing concern.

139,000
estimated problem or at risk gamblers across the South West
40%
of the money lost on FOBTs is from these problem gamblers
£720m
estimated losses from problem gamblers around the UK in 2016

The regulation debate

Campaigners are asking the Government to reduce the maximum amount you can place per bet. Some want it slashed from £100 to just £2.

But opponents argue that these machines are used responsibly by the vast majority of users, and further regulation will simply force addicts to places where they are fewer safety measures in place, such as online gaming.

So far, Paddy Power Betfair is the only major bookmaker to have told us it supports a significant reduction to £10 or lower.

Bookmakers say the majority of gamblers use the machines responsibly. Credit: ITV News
2000
jobs in the West Country supported by the FOBTs
£400m
approximate amount the FOBTs contribute to the treasury

Bookmakers say that many high street shops wouldn't be able to survive without the FOBTs, and that staff have measures in place to protect those who are using them.

Look at the way people using the machines in betting shops in the South West. On average they'll stake around £14, £15. They may lose in the session of play somewhere around £8 or £9 pounds, so we're not seeing excessive behaviours.

And it's the human interaction that you get in betting shops which I think make it the safest environment that you can bet in.

– MALCOLM GEORGE, Association of British Bookmakers

A long-awaited government review of the machines is expected to be released later this week.

Gambling addiction: advice and support

If you're concerned about gambling addiction in yourself or a loved one then there are many services out there which can provide help.

The charity Addiction Recovery Agency helps those from the Bristol area.

They've seen nearly 500 people this year.

The category B2 machines, which are known as the FOBTs, are a quick mechanism for people who can't control gambling to spend quite a lot of money and therefore quite often lose quite a lot of money.

There is help out there so don't delay. Come and seek some help.

– Graham England, Addiction Recovery Agency

National sources

  • GamCare runs the National Gambling Helpline. They can be reached 0808 8020 133
  • Gamblers Anonymous uses a 12-step approach and also has a support group for relatives called Gam-Anon
If you're worried about the amount of time or money you spent gambling there is help available. Credit: ITV News

Local sources