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Medway councillor Rupert Turpin spends £100 of his own money on betting machines

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Medway councillor Rupert Turpin went to Coral in Chatham High Street to put £100 of his own money in betting machines (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) so he could see how much he won back in 2013
Medway councillor Rupert Turpin went to Coral in Chatham High Street to put £100 of his own money in betting machines (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) so he could see how much he won back in 2013

Medway has 1,000 fixed-odds betting machines, earning a reputation as ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’ and prompting a political campaign. But is it true?

Gambling novice, Tory councillor, property landlord and dad Rupert Turpin, 47, put £100 in his pocket and visited a betting shop. He was joined by Dan Bloom.


Our experiment kicks off with a trip to the cashpoint. Rupert, who was part of Medway Council’s debt task force last year, grimaces as he draws £100 of his hard-earned cash. Maybe this wasn’t a great idea.


Into Coral we go. It’s busy for a Thursday afternoon. Lots of men, mostly over 40, are watching sports clutching their tickets.

We struggle to find the odds on the side of the machines, until we realise we’re supposed to view them through the “help screen”.

We pick Hot Shot Roulette and find the odds. They’re tricky to work out even though we’re both good at maths. They range from a single number at 35/1 to winning red or black at 1/1.

With no clue how much he might win, Rupert puts his first £10 in the machine.


I’m told to produce ID. How embarrassing.

Cllr Turpin draws out £100 from the cashpoint
Cllr Turpin draws out £100 from the cashpoint


Playing begins! Rupert stakes £1 on the first spin. It comes up with nothing but the second spin wins £3. Success!

STAKED: £2 | WON: £3


Rupert ups the stakes to £2 a spin. Again, he loses the first few but soon wins back £4.

STAKED: £17 | WON: £7


We’re flushed with confidence. Rupert starts putting £5 on every spin, spread across the board. He puts a big stake on “hot shot”. “That gives me the chance to win £500!” he says. “I can’t pass that up.”

Soon he’s lost £20 in about 90 seconds. His smile’s vanished. “It’s not looking very good, is it?” he says. “It did make me feel good when I won the first time but my luck seems to have run out very quickly.”

STAKED: £37 | WON: £7


Rupert refuses to learn his lesson and carries on with Hot Shot Roulette. He has a couple of wins but soon he’s staked half his budget. “It’s quite a nice game,” he admits. “The way it spins round it quite realistic. It makes you feel like you’re not spending your money too quickly.”

STAKED: £50 | WON: £13


We need a change of game. Looking round for inspiration, we watch two Chinese men meticulously spreading their 25p stakes across the roulette board. The pair groan when they lose £8 on a single spin.

We try a horse racing game but it’s far too complicated for our little brains so we go for a “magic wheel” instead. But we can’t get our heads around that either. Rupert presses the spin button without realising he’s automatically staked £2. “Oops,” he says.

STAKED: £52 | WON: £13

Fixed odds betting terminals called the 'crack cocaine' of gambling
Fixed odds betting terminals called the 'crack cocaine' of gambling


We pick Hot Wax, a fruit machine with a snakes-and-ladders bonus game run by scantily-clad, soaped-up car wash girls. “Wahey!” says Rupert.

We check the odds – there’s an average payout of 84%. We want to make sure we know how it works so we ask a nice staff member to help.

The only woman we’ve seen in our time at the shop, she explains the game then offers us a drink. We decline.

A big “gamble aware” notice is part of the instructions. “Gambling is entertainment, not a way of investing money,” it reminds us with an 0845 helpline number. “Only spend money you can afford to lose... Avoid chasing your losses.”

I take a couple of photos of Rupert in the hot seat. Another Coral employee comes over and politely asks us not to take pictures, so I put the camera away.


An early win! Rupert collects £12 on the snakes-and-ladders bonus game. He missed an earlier chance at cash too, because he didn’t realise he was supposed to stop playing and collect at the prime moment, like Deal or No Deal. He shakes his head when the prize slip comes out though. You can either cash it – or feed it straight back into the machine to carry on gambling.

STAKED: £62 | WON: £25


A bit more cash later Rupert matches three oranges. “Collect £4 or gamble for more?” asks the machine, politely. He collects his £4. “I guess I’m a Conservative,” he jokes. He plays a few more rounds but there’s no joy so we call time on Hot Wax. Shame.

STAKED: £82 | WON: £29


It’s time for our last game – Blackjack. Rupert is impressed by the return, which is 99.2% “based on best strategy”. He’s not so impressed by the maximum stake per hand, though, of £100. He lets out a low whistle.

We do a lot better on this one, winning back dribs and drabs worth £16 from £18.50 staked, despite having to look up what “double down” means. “This one’s calmer,” says Rupert. “I like it better. You think a lot more before spending your money.”

STAKED: £100.50 | WON: £45


Time to go and Rupert has lost £55.50 in 40 minutes. “No winnings?” asks a wizened gent watching the Indian Premier League. We swap stories and he claims he’s seen people lose £1,000, £2,000 and more on the machines in just a few hours. “Roulette is the killer,” he says. “I’ve seen someone try to punch a hole in the machine. I used to do roulette but I kicked it. Now I just bet on sports.” We ask him how much would be a painful amount to lose. He says about £200.


We’ve decamped to Costa so I ask Rupert, whose losses now stand at £60 after buying coffee, why he did it.

“I’ve never been a gambler,” he said. “I played the lottery once but forgot to check the numbers so I didn’t bother any more.

“I wanted to find out whether it was true that you could lose money as quickly as they say and whether I would feel the appeal of gambling.

“Personally I don’t feel any appeal at all and I wouldn’t go back. When I see fixed odds that are less than 100%, the logical part of me says the longer you play the more you lose.

“It wasn’t so bad for me but for someone who’s addicted I can see it would be. I can see how people would chase their money then feel a complete failure if they don’t get it back.”

With what's left of the £100 outside the betting shop
With what's left of the £100 outside the betting shop

Coral’s PR director, Simon Clare, said our experiment was “frankly irresponsible”.

“This is a very serious debate that could impact on thousands of people’s jobs and the survival of thousands of betting shops,” he said, “so it is frankly irresponsible to use as the basis for an article, a research sample of one person’s opinion of their 40-minute experience of playing on a betting terminal when they are not even someone who ever visits betting shops or enjoys betting as a pastime.

“There are over 8,000 betting shops in Britain with millions of people in this country enjoying betting as a hobby.”

He added the Responsible Gambling Trust, a charity whose research is funded by the gambling industry, is currently running “a huge piece of research into betting terminals that will provide proper statistically significant evidence”.

Peter Craske, a spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers, said betting firms employ 145 people in 29 shops across Medway and pay £250,000 in business rates.

He added: “Betting operators have been on the high street for over 50 years and believe we are an essential part of the local community. Our members are heavily regulated and socially responsible businesses.”

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