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Gambling self-exclusion scheme is failing to help kick the habit

A scheme being piloted in Chatham to help problem gamblers is proving to be something of a disappointment.

The project is being led by the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) and, nine months in, 26 people have opted to exclude themselves from all gambling shops in Chatham.

But after an initial surge, only three people have signed up in the past three months.

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

Chatham was chosen for the pilot scheme because of the high number of outlets in the area.

The launch followed a campaign to tackle gambling in the Towns, with particular concerns about fixed-odds betting terminals – dubbed the ‘crack cocaine’ of betting.

It is the first project in the UK to offer gamblers the chance to ban themselves from all bookmakers in an entire town by filling in just one form.

Previously, people who wanted to exclude themselves could only do it from one operator at a time.

But this month, a BBC journalist tested the scheme by signing up at one shop.

A month later he visited all 10 shops included in the pilot. He was only prevented from gambling in just two of them.

Medway Labour leader Vince Maple, who has been involved in the campaign against fixed-odds terminals, said: “The pilot has definitely had mixed results, and there are real flaws in it.

“But the changes that need to be made cannot come from one local authority alone, this is a national issue.

A fixed odds machine in a bookmakers. Library picture
A fixed odds machine in a bookmakers. Library picture

“I am not against gambling, but these machines need to have their maximum bet reduced from £100 to £2 in line with pubs and bingo halls.”

The ABB do not agree with the BBC’s findings and a spokesman said: “We do not accept this was a serious illustration of what happens when someone genuinely wants to self-exclude, as before that would happen, staff would have been speaking to the person, advised them on the options, including calling the gambling helpline number or speaking to counsellors. We want to learn what does and doesn’t work.

 “The pilot has definitely had mixed results, and there are real flaws in it" - Vince Maple

“The information and lessons we learn from this will play a key role in shaping the launch of a nationwide self-exclusion scheme, which will come into effect next spring.”

A Medway Council spokesman added: “While this is disappointing, the self-exclusion scheme set up by the Medway Responsible Gambling Partnership is a pilot project, and the reason for the pilot is to see where there are strengths and weaknesses and highlight what can be done to improve the initiative.

“Therefore we will be sure to take these findings on board.”

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