Westcountry gamblers spend £700m on bookies' machines
More than £700 million was gambled on casino-style machines in the Westcountry last year, according to new figures.
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling calculated that £735,216,907 was spent in 2012 across Devon and Cornwall on touch-screen roulettes and casino gaming machines.
Torbay emerged as having the highest spend on gambling in the region, with £97.3 million placed on 66 machines at 18 betting shops in the town.
In Plymouth £86.5m was placed on 59 machines across 16 betting shops in the city, while in Exeter £70.3m was inserted into 47 machines at 13 betting shops.
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Oliver Colvile, Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said such individuals should take responsibility for their own lives.
He said: "People must have the strength of mind to resist gambling."
Mr Colvile said he had been "very sceptical" about the previous government relaxing gambling laws, but admitted he did sometimes bet money on big sporting events.
"I have an occasional flutter on the Grand National", he said. "But quite frankly, I know the bookies are rich because they know the odds."
A total of more than £5 billion was gambled on machines across the country last year.
Adrian Parkinson, of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling Consultant, said: "Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are touch-screen roulette and casino gaming machines in betting shops, on which it is possible to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds.
"The high stakes and speed of play have led to the machines being called "the crack cocaine of gambling", and the Gambling Act 2005 limits each betting shop to four FOBTs – so bookies leapfrog regulations by opening up as many shops as possible."
The group is calling for the Gambling Commission to take action by temporarily restricting new licence applications and curbing bookmakers' advertising of the gaming machines.
Mr Parkinson added: "We believe the only way to stop machine-driven proliferation of betting shops is to make the machines less profitable."
Four times the amount is bet in unemployment blackspots than in richer constituencies, according to analysis of the research.
A spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers said: "The industry employs 45,000 people and supports a further 60,000 jobs in the economy.
"Our members pay £1 billion in taxes, far more than any other comparable retail businesses."
Last year Labour party's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, admitted gambling liberalisation introduced by the former Labour government was a "mistake" and has ruined people's lives.
Joan Ruddock, the Labour MP for Lewisham and Deptford in London, described the industry as "preying on the vulnerable and desperate".