Gamblers lose more than £8 million a year on betting shop gaming machines across the Swansea Bay City Region, according to estimates which worry a city MP.
For a long time Carolyn Harris has been campaigning about fixed-odds betting terminals, or FOBTs, which generate a large amount of revenue for high street betting firms.
The machines allow punters to play electronic versions of games such as roulette, black jack, poker and slots — and they have come under fire as stakes of up to £100 are allowed.
With quick card dealing and roulette spins, customers can lose a lot of money in just a few minutes.
The machines have prominent, flashing warnings at eye level urging users to be aware of what they are doing, and suggesting they set themselves a limit on how much they spend.
However, a cross-party MP group has recommended that stakes are reduced to a £2 maximum after assessing the impacts of FOBTs.
Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the group, said she was staggered that an estimated £498,578 was spent on 15 FOBTs in her constituency in 2015-16, the latest year estimates are available for.
The figures were compiled using data provided by the Gambling Commission and the Responsible Gambling Trust.
Labour MP Mrs Harris said: “The case for action on FOBTs is clear and I urge the Government to act now and cut the stake. There is no excuse for the continued misery these machines are causing.
“The problems associated with them are obvious, and it is really not acceptable to be able to walk in off the street and stake such a high amount with no checks or safeguards in place whatsoever.
“I am extremely concerned to hear that £489,578 was lost to FOBTs in Swansea East. We cannot go on with this situation.
“I urge the Government to bring forward their proposals, and to substantially reduce the stake on FOBTs to £2 without further delay.”
The campaign has secured widespread support, with the General Synod of the Church of England, 93 councils, the Royal Society for Public Health and politicians from all parties backing it.
Mrs Harris said the UK Government was considering responses to a consultation about gaming machines and social responsibility, with proposals due to be published in October.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats promised to slash FOBT stakes to £2 in their General Election manifestos.
Concerns have been voiced that FOBT-related losses are highest in deprived areas.
But industry body the Association of British Bookmakers has described the estimated constituency-by-constituency FOBT losses as the product of “deeply flawed” research.
A spokesman for the association told a national newspaper: “The reality is that betting shops are located in areas of high footfall with 84 per cent of shops located in densely populated areas.
“The most profitable shops are located in the least deprived areas.”
But the Campaign for Fairer Gambling disagreed, arguing that the research did in fact show “a highly addictive gambling product” was freely available in deprived areas.
The West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse centre, in Uplands, ran a pilot gambling support scheme, counselling several people who had lost big time on FOBTs.
Lead intervention worker Salimah Musabbir-Turner told WalesOnline in 2014 that one of her clients lost around £25,000 in two years on FOBTs, while another person lost around £6,000 in two days.
“Talk to a FOBT gambler and he will more than likely tell you a story of misery and ruin,” she said.
Gambling support charity GamCare said people using FOBTs must know the risks and how they can manage them.
“We support all player protection measures for FOBTs, such as increased interaction with staff, monitoring of play and encouraging people to set limits on their spending,” GamCare communications manager Catherine Sweet told WalesOnline.
“We do know that these measures will not prevent all gamblers from developing problems, however we hope that these will lead to further action to reduce overall harm.”
– If you need help, phone GamCare’s helpline on 0808 8020133.