HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
Like many others in South Holland and the Deepings, my family enjoys an occasional flutter on some of our great sporting events – the Grand National, the Derby (and even the Boat Race!)
I remember, too, my father light-heartedly filling in his pools coupon and my mother spending several happy evenings in the local bingo hall.
There is no reason that gambling cannot be fun. But the recent proliferation of fixed-odds betting terminals – of which there are now some 1.5 million on Britain’s high streets – are another matter altogether. They are plainly addictive and potentially very harmful.
Indeed, the latest data from the social research institute NatCen suggest that their growing prevalence has caused an alarming increase in the number of “problem gamblers” – from 280,000 in 2012 to 430,000 in 2015.
Of those using these machines, 43 per cent are either “at risk” or “problem” users. Tragic crises of debt, unemployment, domestic violence and family breakdown can stem from such addictive gambling.
In fact, it is estimated by the think-tank Respublica that these infernal terminals caused 23,400 job losses in the last year alone which, in addition to the distress caused to the families affected, increases the burden which taxpayers must bear.
With this in mind, I used my first opportunity at Prime Minister’s Questions since returning to the backbenches to ask Mrs May whether the Government intends to clamp down on these casino-style machines by cutting the maximum stake, ideally to £2, and what she intends to do about online gambling sites which target children.
The Prime Minister has assured me that the Government will play its part in protecting children and vulnerable people for the good of all.
She confirmed that the fixed-odds stakes will be cut and that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is examining a raft of new measures to support its work.
Alongside this, a new industry-led responsible gambling advertising campaign will be launched shortly, and the Gambling Commission has asked the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board to examine the wider relationship between children and gambling.
Such efforts are vital steps towards improving the nation’s economic and social fabric.
We are fortunate in South Holland and the Deepings to have well-run, responsible betting shops, the staff of which do a great job, but the same is not the case everywhere.
At present, Britain is the only developed country in the world which has high street betting shops where people can bet anything up to £100 every 20 seconds. High streets should be at the very centre of their community, but they risk becoming domains of despair if something is not done.
As measures progress, I will do all I can to ensure that town centres remain places people want to be, retaining their rightful place not only as sources of employment and enterprise, but beating hearts of our common life, nurturing and sustaining the common good.