42 Minutes, £2,600 Lost: The U.K.’s Growing Gambling Problem

But bookmakers, backed by other researchers, counter that there is no clear evidence that the machine is any more addictive than other kinds of gambling — like the online casino, a product that is restricted in the United States but legal in Britain. They warn that banning the machines, which are found only in British betting shops and provide more than half their profits, would lead to the loss of thousands of jobs.

For campaigners, a set of statistics published in August by the Gambling Commission, which regulates the British gambling industry, highlighted the urgency of the matter: It suggested that the number of British “problem gamblers,” or people whose lives are damaged by their gambling, had risen by almost 50 percent between 2012 and 2015, from 280,000 to 430,000.

The bookmakers, though, pointed to a line in the report that said the rate of problem gambling had remained “statistically stable,” because both figures are small compared with the British population as a whole.


Tony Franklin has a decades-long gambling addiction. These days, he is lured in by betting machines that campaigners blame for a rise in problem gambling.

Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The history of fixed odds betting terminals is under less dispute. They were introduced into British betting shops in 2001, at a time when the government of Tony Blair, then the prime minister, was accelerating the gambling industry’s transformation, as the academic David Runciman has argued, from one that was permitted only to meet demand into one that was allowed to stimulate it.

Today, there are roughly 33,000 such machines spread across Britain’s 9,000 betting shops. They collectively provided a profit of more than £1.8 billion last year, far more than those outlets made from bets on horse races, dog races and soccer matches combined.

Roughly half of the terminals are supplied by a subsidiary of a company headed by the American businessman Ronald Perelman, who is friends with President Trump. The configuration of the machines themselves is unique to Britain, partly because their settings are illegal in some other countries.

The machines allow users to place bets of up to £100, once every 20 seconds, on computerized casino games such as roulette.

While researchers are divided on the subject, many gambling addicts say that…

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