A STAGGERING £1.4bn a year is gambled on high-stakes machines across the region, campaigners warn – ahead of a Commons vote on a crackdown today (Wednesday)
The alarm was raised over the spread of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in High Street bookies, which allow punters to bet £300 every minute.
At the last count, there were more than 1,300 such machines across the region, according to an analysis of figures from the Gambling Commission.
And around £1.4bn was gambled in the year to September 2012 - or more than £3.8m every day.
In one parliamentary constituency alone – Middlesbrough – punters threw £117.6m at the video machines, which offer virtual versions of casino games such as roulette.
Now Labour will stage a Commons debate today, in a bid to force the Government to take action against what it calls a dangerous “epidemic”.
Ed Miliband’s party has vowed to give local authorities the power to reduce the number of FOBTs in betting shops, if local people protest.
Labour also wants to cut the maximum stake from £100 to £2, reduce the £500 top prize and increase the time between ‘plays’, requiring pop-ups and breaks.
Alex Cunningham, the Stockton North MP, is among those calling for action, saying: “It is utterly immoral that firms are able to target areas of high deprivation in such a manner.
“The prevalence of these machines has huge consequences for families, for levels of crime and anti-social behaviour and for the kind of communities we live in.
“The time has come to give local people and local authorities the right to decide if they want their high streets to be the place for high stakes, high speed and high cost gambling.”
The analysis, by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling organisation, suggests the constituency where the second largest sum was gambled was Sunderland Central (£113.8m).
Across the country, there are more than 33,000 FOBTs, making £1.5bn each year for the big bookmakers - half their annual profits.
Ironically, they were launched in 1999 after Labour scrapped tax on individual bets in favour of taxing bookmakers' profits.
However, despite being responsible for relaxing the gambling laws, Labour has now has accused the industry of exploiting that change to target poorer areas.
The Government has not ruled out cutting stakes and prizes, but has argued for waiting for the outcome of a study into the harm caused to players.
Helen Grant, the Conservative culture minister, said any problems with FOBTs “should be laid at Labour's door”.
She said: “In 2000, these machines did not exist. By the time of the last general election, there were over 30,000.”