The maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals is to be reduced from £100 to between £2 and £50, the Government has announced.
Ministers have announced new restrictions on controversial betting machines, which campaigners blame for a rise in problem gambling.
A widespread fixture in high street betting shops, they currently allow punters to spend £100 per 20-second spin.
A long-awaited review into the industry by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, published this morning, has recommended various four options for cutting the maximum stake to £2, £20, £30 and £50.
A 12-week consultation will then follow.
Sports minister Tracey Crouch said in the introduction to the review: “This consultation brings forward a package of proposals which responds to strong evidence and public concerns about the risks of high stakes gambling on the high street, with the aim of enhancing player protections on gambling machines that enable high rates of loss in short periods of time.”
Video: Gambler ‘lost £5,000 in an hour’
Four options for the maximum stake are outlined: £2, £20, £30 and £50.
Matt Zarb-Cousin of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling said £50 would be a “kick in the teeth” for campaigners.
Bookmaking giants have lobbied against cuts to the stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals.
They say a cut to £2 would cost 20,000 jobs and £1.1bn in tax revenue by 2020.
The Labour Party, as well as campaigners, councils and faith groups have campaigned for years for the stake to be cut to £2, in line with arcade games such as fruit machines.
Mike Simons, who ran betting shops for 38 years until he left the industry in 2015, told Sky News he became disillusioned with the effects of FOBTs.
Image: FOBTs first appeared on Britain’s high streets in 2001
One of his customers, he said, took his own life after losing a month’s wages and a payday loan on the machines in one session.
Now running a chocolate shop in Essex, Mr Simons said: “I saw people get into real trouble, one guy had his life ended by it. It got too much for him and he killed himself.”
Mr Simons, 56, who has used the machines himself and “found it difficult to stop” said there was a difference compared with other forms of betting such as horse and dog racing.
“With the FOBTs, it’s exacerbated, it’s concentrated, they want all the money now, on the next spin. It always gives you the feeling you are going to get it back.”
The review follows wrangling between the Culture department and the Treasury – which stands to make significant losses from the most dramatic cut to the stake.
FOBTs first appeared on Britain’s high streets in 2001, but a liberalisation of gambling laws in 2005 saw an explosion in numbers.
Image: Four options for the maximum stake are outlined: £2, £20, £30 and £50
There are now around 34,000 across the country and it is estimated that 1.5 million people have used them.
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said successive governments’ failure to introduce restrictions was a mistake.
Mr Watson, who has called the machines the “crack cocaine of gambling”, said when they were introduced: “We didn’t know how these FOBTs could be so powerfully addictive, and how people could lose so much money so fast on them.”
“Labour committed in our manifesto to a £2 stake. At the moment a gambling addict can lose £100 every 20 seconds on these machine, if they can lose £25 every 20 seconds that doesn’t go far enough.
“This review is a step in the right direction, but we think it’s too slow and we think that because the last five years gambling addiction in this country has risen a third… it’s a hidden epidemic.”
:: In his own words: A fixed-odds betting addict’s story
Barry Phillips, a retired police officer and former head of security for a bookmaker, told Sky News his experience was that FOBT users were associated with increased crime.
“People will play the machines, become addicted and will start then chasing their losses,” he said.
“That causes them to become angry, to become frustrated and that manifests itself in criminal damage to the machines and more recently an increase in the amount of violence towards staff, towards other customers.”
Shares in bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral seemed untroubled by the announcement, with both trading higher on Tuesday morning.
Ladbrokes Coral said in a statement that it would take an active part in the consultation and that it hoped the “commitment to being evidence led will remain in place”.
The group said the process had been ongoing for 12 months and introduced a “prolonged period of uncertainty” into the business.
William Hill said: “We are pleased that the government recognises both the industry’s contribution to the wider economy and the progress made on social responsibility including player tracking.
“We are concerned that severe stake cuts remain an option and will play a full part in the consultation process to ensure an evidence based outcome.”
A spokesperson for the Association of British Bookmakers said: “Betting shops cater for over 6 million customers every year and the vast majority of them gamble responsibly.
“The average amount lost on a betting shop gaming machine in a session is just £9.17…
“Betting shops are investing very significant sums of money to help identify those at risk so that they get the help that they need.”