A gambling addict left homeless and suicidal after spending thousands on fixed-odd betting machines tonight accused pro-gambling MP Philip Davies of playing with people’s lives.
Sarah Grant and other campaigners were furious this week after it emerged the Government had broken their promise to take action against FOBTs – dubbed the crack cocaine of gambling – next April.
The decision to delay the change came after Tory MP Mr Davies went to see Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright.
On Monday Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that a crackdown on the addictive machines in betting shops would only come into force in next October – six months later than originally stated.
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch resigned over the decision not to reduce the stakes to £2 in the spring as had been previously agreed – and long-campaigned for by the Sunday People.
Sources close to Ms Crouch say she was furious after discovering Mr Davies – who worked as a manager for two different bookmakers before becoming an MP, had gone over her head and met Mr Wright to discuss FOBTs.
Gambling victim Sarah, who believes Mr Davies helped delay the crackdown, agrees.
She told the Sunday People: “These machines almost cost me my life – and have taken the lives of who knows how many others.
“I’d just like to ask Mr Davies how much are our lives actually worth? Could he give me a figure?
“He must think it’s worth it even though so many people have committed suicide.”
In an interview earlier this week Mr Davies confirmed he had met with Culture Secretary Mr Wright and the two had discussed FOBTs.
He also did not deny meeting Chancellor Philip Hammond to discuss the issue earlier in the year.
Mr Davies’ register of interests show more than £3,000 worth of hospitality tickets to racing events this year. They include two hospitality tickets to St Leger Doncaster Races in September valued at £140 each, provided by William Hill.
Other entries in the register include tickets from Ladbrokes, Arena Racing and Sky Betting and Gaming.
There is no suggestion Mr Davies has broken any rules by accepting the tickets and they have been properly declared.
Sarah, 32, from Cardiff, who once lost £9,000 in three hours on the machines, said: “The Government gave us false hope. I’ve got a lot of respect for Tracey Crouch for taking a stand.
“When my addiction was at its worst I hit rock bottom, I felt I had made a big mess of my life and felt there was no way out apart from suicide.
“As it stands people’s children are going hungry and lives are at stake and the Government aren’t acting fast enough.
“It’s not as simple as telling people don’t click the button, don’t play the machine. We need support.”
Fixed-odds betting terminals generate £1.8bn in revenue a year for the betting industry, according to the Gambling Commission, and taxes of £400m for the Government. Gamblers can stake £100 every 20 seconds, with many addicts plunged into debt.
Sarah, who is now in recovery, said: “Any limits would help and delaying them is dangerous.
“As a gambling addict you aren’t spending £20 on a bottle of vodka like an alcoholic. You could gamble your house, your salary, your kids’ school uniform money.”
Sources say the Treasury had agreed April 2019 would see the stakes reduced.
But the date moved to October 2019 and insiders say it was due to lobbying from the gambling industry and its representatives.
Sources say the Treasury came under pressure from the new Culture Secretary Mr Wright.
In Parliament this week, Labour’s Tom Watson asked Mr Wright: “On what dates did he meet the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), a well-known advocate for the industry, to discuss FOBTs?”
Speaking to the Sunday People, Mr Watson, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The Tories have prioritised corporate interests over victims, profits over public health and greed over good. Jeremy Wright should be thoroughly ashamed.
“For while the bookmakers get to trouser another £900m with this delay, more lives will be ruined and families broken.”
Other campaigners greeted the delay with fury.
John Myers said he believed the Government had caved in to the lobbyists and gambling industry and don’t care about the men who were dying.
John’s son Ryan was just 27 when he took his own life in 2014 because he felt he had lost control after losing thousands on the machines.
John, 59, said: “The gambling industry has a massive lobby and I knew they’d use that to delay the £2 limit.”
In Mr Davies’ constituency of Shipley West Yorks, Jeffrey Lawson, 62, knows first-hand how much the machines can ruin lives. He said: “I have just spent £600 in a hour on the machines, you are constantly chasing the cash. I can walk away now and know it wasn’t going to happen today. They are horrible horrible things.”
Dom Goldthorpe, 22, from Shipley. said: “When I first turned 18, I was really bad for using them. I’d waste up to £100 a day, sometimes more if I was convinced money was going to come in.” Karen Treadwell, 45, of neabrby Bradford, added: “The Government should be ashamed. Instead of helping working class people get on their feet financially they are taking advantage of people looking for ways to make cash.”
Last night Mr Davies told the Sunday People: “There isn’t a delay. It’s been brought forward.
“The only conversations I’ve had with Jeremy Wright are to complain to him about bringing forward the date.
“You couldn’t make it up. I never asked Jeremy Wright for October as the date. That was his decision. I wanted him to stick to April 2020.
“I don’t believe they should be doing it at all.”
Despair of tragic son
Mum Liz Ritchie set up a charity helpline after her gambling addict son Jack, 24, a former NHS worker in Sheffield, committed suicide in 2017.
She says: “I know all about these machines.
“Jack started on FOBTs in his lunchtime with a group of friends.
“His problems built from there. We’re sad to see Tracey Crouch go from her job. She’s clearly made a moral stand.
“When me and my husband met with her we gave her a hard time. But she wrote us the most fantastic letter back.
“The Government don’t have it in their head that there is a serious health problem here.
“But Tracey got it and she should be applauded for that. She’s been so lacking in support in her own department that she felt she had to go.”
- See Liz’s charity – gamblingwithlives.org
£41k gone in one day
Terry White lost his home and £250,000 on FOBTs.
The former betting shop manager ended up relying on food banks after blowing £41,000 in just one day.
Terry, 54, said: “I was playing three machines at once. I was clearly out of control. Staff did nothing.
“This is not problem gambling. This is an addiction. And these machines are evil.
“The government have either been ignorant or greedy.”
Terry of Barry, South Wales, added: “I’ve been to the edge. I attempted suicide. There’s a lot of anger towards these bookmakers.
“They’re missing the big picture. This is people’s lives. The situation is out of hand.”
At heart is a moral issue
Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East and chair of the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group, has slammed the cap delay.
She said: “The Government finally accepted FOBTs are a social blight.
“The most important reason to implement the stake reduction is a moral one. These machines are harming the vulnerable and people are even taking their own lives because of them. This cannot go on and it is not too late.
“I urge the Government to think again, to do the right thing. They must bring forward the date when the stake will be cut to April 2019 and do it now.”