I recently sent the following letter to Tracey Crouch MP, the UK Government Minister with responsibility for Gambling, calling on her to devolve full control over Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to Scotland, to allow the Scottish Government to grant Scottish local authorities powers to control the spread and use of them.
Dear Ms. Crouch,
As Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for Gambling, I am sure you will be aware of the tragic case of Lee Murphy, who committed suicide last May after racking up debts of over £30,000 in a year gambling on Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals, and whose story was recently featured in the Daily Record (1st November 2015). His case is sadly not unique, with gambling charities estimating at least one in four gambling addicts will attempt suicide.
As you will also no doubt be aware, my party, the SNP, has repeatedly called for the power to regulate the number of FOBT’s permitted in bookmaking premises be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, as well as the ability to regulate the maximum stake allowed. Sadly, the recently announced amendments to the Scotland Bill only provide the power to regulate some aspects of new FOBTs, in new premises – not those already in use.
As the Member of Parliament for Chatham & Aylesford, you will be aware of the problems that problem gambling & FOBTs can cause – the violent incident in Chatham in March 2014 being but one example – and you will know your own local authority, Medway Council, is a member of the Medway Partnership, the first scheme of its kind in the UK to allow self-exclusion from all bookmakers within the scheme – and I am investigating bringing such a scheme to Inverclyde. Clearly this is a problem that affects local authorities all over the UK – but I would point out that Chatham, a town with a population of some 70,000, has just 8 bookmakers – whereas Inverclyde with a population of around 80,000 currently has almost 20 bookmakers and estimates show that over the last year almost twice the amount of money was gambled away in Inverclyde as Chatham, some £2.7 million. I am aware of the politics surrounding the Scotland Bill and of the complexities of the legislation and amendments to it – but I simply wish to do the job I was elected to do and serve my constituents and my town – a town which in its centre has 10 bookmakers within a 1 kilometre radius, some of which have 5 FOBTs each.
I write to you today, not as politician to politician, but as one human being to another, please, allow these powers to be devolved, in order that Scottish local authorities can regulate the usage of these machines not just in future applications, but in those licences already granted. Without these powers, I fear we shall read of more tragic cases in our newspapers of gamblers taking their own lives after losing everything gambling on FOBTs.
Cllr Math Campbell-Sturgess