WEARSIDE punters staked more than £270million on betting machines in 12 months.
Figures released by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling show there are 57 licensed betting shops with 208 fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) across the city, which campaigners describe as the “crack cocaine of gambling”.
In Sunderland’s three parliamentary constituencies, a total of £216,159,580 was put into the machines, which are capable of taking bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds.
That amount leads to a gross yield for bookmakers of £6,744,179.
Meanwhile, machines in the Easington constituency, covering Seaham and Peterlee, took bets totalling a further £60,676,373.
MPs today expressed their shock at the figure and rounded on the betting industry, calling for tighter regulation of FOBTs.
A staggering £113,768,200 was staked in the Sunderland Central constituency’s 109 machines, at an average of almost £3,000 per machine per day.
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliot said: “It is apparent that a huge amount of money in Sunderland has been spent on gambling machines in betting shops, but sadly this is money this city simply cannot afford.
“The betting shop industry is preying on the vulnerable and desperate and is encouraging them to spend money they do not have.
“I support calls for the regulation of FOBTs and want to see the maximum reduced from £100 and the time between plays increased.
“I also believe that planning regulations should be reformed to give local councils the power to prevent the spread of betting shops in our high street.”
In Sharon Hodgson’s Washington and Sunderland West constituency, £45,507,280 was gambled at 12 machines, and she told the Echo that she hopes action will be taken to regulate their use.
She said: “I think this is an area that needs looking at. I’m not saying somebody cannot enjoy placing a bet, but when you see those figures, some of the people spending that money can’t afford it.
“You wonder what is suffering on the back of that money being taken out of people’s pockets.
“I would not have a problem voting in favour of regulation in the future.”
Councillor John Kelly, portfolio holder for public health, said Sunderland City Council has little power to curb the proliferation of FOBTs.
He said: “Licensing law does not allow local authorities to control the number of betting premises in any particular area, and all applications for licences for betting premises must be considered individually on their own merits.
“All licence applications are subject to a statutory consultation process ,and local authorities can only refuse a licence in extremely limited circumstances.”
Adrian Parkinson from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, accused bookmakers of flouting licensing regulations.
He said: “The high stakes and speed of play have led to the machines being called the crack cocaine of gambling.
“The Gambling Act 2005 limits each betting shop to four FOBTs, so bookies leapfrog regulations by opening up as many shops as possible, which is why we get clustering, especially in poorer areas as our research has shown.”
But a spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers slammed the findings, claiming most of the money taken is returned to punters, and he also dismissed the notion that bookmakers target the most vulnerable.
He said: “Electronic gaming machines in betting shops return 97 per cent to the player, which means the real figure is just three per cent of what is being claimed.
“Only four per cent of the UK population gambles using an electronic gaming machine in a betting shop, and the majority of players are in full-time work and have formal qualifications from A-levels to degrees. It is wrong to claim betting shops target specific areas.”
He also pointed to the research by the Centre for Economic and Business Research which suggested bookmakers in the North East contribute £205million to the region’s economy every year.