|The UK Government is to crack down on 'virtual casino' machines in betting shops. The machines, currently offering jackpot prizes of up to £50,000, are rapidly becoming popular in high-street bookmakers across Britain. Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said last week that the spread of the machines in relatively unregulated locations could lead to a significant growth in gambling addiction. |
Ms Jowell said in a written Commons statement: 'The Government has noted with concern the increasing installation in licensed betting offices of machines, described as fixed-odds betting machines, which enable customers to play virtual casino games for prizes of up to £50,000. More than 1,000 machines had been installed in Ladbrokes branches by the end of last year and a further 1,000 will be in place by Easter.
'Our current plan is to introduce new legislation which will be drafted in such a way that those betting machines which in reality involve gaming will be brought within the relevant controls for gaming machines. We take the view that the uncontrolled proliferation of high-prize machine gaming on the high street risks seriously increasing problem gambling.'
As part of the reform of the UK’s antiquated gambling laws, bookmakers are to be limited to four gaming machines, each offering a maximum £500 jackpot. The laws, expected to be included in the Queen's Speech in November, will have to be worded to include online gambling.
The Gaming Board for Great Britain and Association of British Bookmakers are about to fight a test case in the courts to clarify the legal position of the machines. What is at issue is whether the machines are covered by legislation on 'gaming machines' or the less stringent restrictions on 'betting machines'. Ms Jowell said she welcomed any action to bring certainty to the issue, but made clear that the Government would act whatever the outcome of the case.