Crackdown on underage gambling in Northampton after four out of five big companies fail test purchases

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Tougher measures to clamp down on underage gambling in betting shops are to be taken in Northampton after four out of the five big companies failed test purchases.

Concerns were first raised that too many under 18s were using ‘fixed odds betting terminals’ at a borough council licensing committee meeting in December.

The controversial machines - which account for half of gambling firm profits - allow players to lose £100 of their own money every 20 seconds on casino games such as roulette.

In response the authority decided to send two 17-year-olds into BetFred, William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power shops in the town in April to see if they were asked for identification before playing on the machines.

Borough council officer Bill Edwards told Tuesday’s licensing panel: “Two betting shops were abysmal failures.

“In these a young person entered, - they were not challenged, they used the machines and left the premises without staff ever asking.”

In another shop the 17-year-old was only asked for proof of age when they were playing on the machine.

Only one of the five asked the youths for proof of age when they entered the premises - as is legally required under the Gambling Act.

The council’s licensing committee resolved to introduce regular test purchases in all of the town’s premises.

But councillors on the committee said the authority would need to go further in curbing the use of the fixed odds terminals - often dubbed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’.

Councillor Gareth Eales (Lab, Spencer) proposed the council lobbies central government to introduce a cap on the stakes a player can gamble.

Laws are currently being drawn up to require a machine to inform staff if they want to bet more than £50 cash at a time. But Councillor Eales said this does not go far enough.

He said: “While I welcome introducing test purchases, the underage use of these machines is just a fraction of the issue. It’s how much you can win and lose in a matter of 20 minutes that concerns me.”

Councillor Les Marriott (Lab, Semilong)said a membership card system could be introduced, which he said could both limit who has access to the shops, but could monitor those over-spending in such premises.