Monica Lennon: Time to cut the number of FOBTs

After the British government announced a cap on the maximum stake in Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) of £2 pounds on Thursday, Monica Lennon MSP has written to Angela Constance to urge the Scottish Government to use their new powers to control the number of FOBTs in new bookies.

The Scottish Government backed the cap on the maximum stake, although is yet to use the power to control the number of machines in new betting shops, which was devolved in 2016. But Scotland is at the centre of the problem, which is now widely regarded as a form of medical addiction in the same manner as narcotics.

A study compiled by Centre for Economic and Business Research has found that Glasgow is the worst affected area in the UK, with over £23 million lost last year, and £239 million lost in the last decade. Edinburgh, Lanarkshire and Dundee are also in the top twelve most damaged by the gambling phenomenon, which has been described as a public health epidemic.

John White, the chief executive of Bacta who commissioned the study, said:

“This research starkly demonstrates the human cost that FOBTs bring, to both problem gamblers and their families.”

The full text of the letter from Monica Lennon to Angela Constance is below:

Dear Cabinet Secretary, 
Fixed Odd Betting terminals (FOBT) have had detrimental and long-lasting effects on communities across Scotland and the UK. Last year, there were more than 230,000 individual sessions in which a user lost more than £1,000. 
The announcement by the UK Government that the maximum stake for fixed-off betting terminals will be cut to £2 is very welcome and is testament to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling and the many individuals who have been motivated to campaign due to their own harrowing experiences. It is something that Labour has campaigned hard for and included in our 2017 manifesto, so I am very pleased that the UK government has finally taken this step, although it is not yet clear when the new regulations will take effect. 
Public Health England will also carry out a review of the damage to health caused by gambling, amid concern about the lack of attention it has received. 
In 2016, the Scottish Parliament gained new powers to control the number of machines in new bookmakers, albeit the size of the maximum stake is reserved. The Scottish Government’s position on using these powers to date has been to await the outcome of the UK review. 
Now that the UK review is complete, I am writing to urge you to consult on how the Scottish Parliament’s powers could be used to limit problem gambling, break the link between gambling and areas of high deprivation and protect some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland. 
This week during First Minister’s Questions, the First Minister stated that she encourages, “any actions that help to reduce the harmful impact of problem gambling” and that she would, “continue to call for appropriate action to tackle this problem even more effectively”. 
I agree with the First Minister that we must do all we can to protect people from problem gambling. 
This must include using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to stop the further spread of FOBTs, something Scottish Labour has long called for. 
 I was very grateful that at the end of 2016, the Scottish Government acted on my calls for tighter planning regulations on new betting shops and that the Local Government and Housing Minister amended the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997 accordingly. I also asked the Minister when the Scottish Government would assess the cumulative impact on communities of the ‘clustering’ or concentration of betting shops and other uses such as payday loan shops, licensed premises and fast-food takeaways, and refer back to the announcement that Public Health England will review the health impacts of gambling. 
I would also urge you to work with your cabinet colleagues to review what further action NHS Scotland can take to support those with a gambling addiction and families affected by problem gambling. 
Monica Lennon

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