A former betting shop manager has spoken out in disgust at high-stakes gambling machines where punters can lose up to £300 in a minute.
Sam Hollis spoke out after the government defeated a House of Commons motion by Labour to give councils the power to limit the number of fixed odds betting terminals.
Unlike traditional fruit machines, punters can gamble up to £100 every 20 seconds on FOBTs, attracted by pay-outs of up to £500.
Mr Hollis, 25, of Widmore Drive, Adeyfield, worked in the industry for five years from 2008, finally leaving in July last year.
He said: “I saw it change from an enjoyable workplace to an aggressive, immoral arena designed to trap people to the addictive content on FOBTs.
“Try putting a £100 bet on a dog race, and you are subject to strict permission to lay rules. Put £100 in a FOBT, and you are offered a cup of tea.
“Companies know that all they have to do is restrict losses over the counter and let the money roll in from FOBTs. This is where the profit lies.”
The law says there can only be up to four FOBTs per gambling premise – but Labour says bookmakers simply open more branches to get around the restrictions.
Mr Hollis said: “It is completely destroying people’s lives.”
He said he left the betting industry when he began to develop empathy for his customers.
He said: “There are five betting shops within five minutes of each other in Hemel town centre. Hemel is a poor area – not well off, and quite an average town.
“They cluster like this on the High Street because they know people will walk from one to the other.”
Altogether in Dacorum there are 13 betting shops in Hemel Hempstead, two in Berkhamsted, one in Tring and one in Kings Langley.
There are also two adult gaming centres, full of fruit machines, in Hemel Hempstead.
Dacorum Borough Council licensing team leader Ross Hill said: “Bookmakers are a long-standing part of the High Street, providing jobs and bringing empty units back into use.
“They bring extra customers into our town.”
He said the authority is actually below the national average in terms of providing licenses for gambling premises, and granted just one in the last financial year.
Refusing to grant permission for such an outlet could result in the council facing hefty costs, as authorities in London have found to their cost.
Mr Hill said: “Essentially where gambling is being provided responsibly and within the terms and conditions of the licenses, we are obliged to allow them to set up.”
Councils have the authority to review gambling licences if firms do not live up to their obligation to protect children and vulnerable persons. But Mr Hill said: “In Dacorum we have not used these powers at all, because we have not had any concerns reported to us about bookmakers.”
As part of a new code of practice, fruit machine users will be warned on-screen once they have lost £250 or been playing for 30 minutes, and staff will be alerted.
From March gamblers will also be able to set their own cash and time limits, after which staff will be alerted and responsible gambling warnings will appear on-screen.
The Association of British Bookmakers drew up the code, which took effect in October. Spokesman Peter Craske said: “Gambling is something 65 per cent of the population enjoy doing in one form or another.
“Eight million people visit a betting shop regularly to place a bet on a variety of sporting or other events or play on a gaming machine.”
He said the latest just 0.5 per cent of the population are thought to have a problem with gambling.
Mr Hollis now writes a blog about his experience of the betting industry, which can be found at samhollisblog.wordpress.com