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Sunday, December 8, 2013

I managed to blow £500 in less than an hour on the 'crack cocaine of gambling'

I managed to blow £500 in less than an hour on the 'crack cocaine of gambling'

Sunday People political columnist Nigel Nelson found there was no magic in playing the game on a controversial casino-style machine at a bookies

Ready: Nigel with his £500
Ready: Nigel with his £500

There’s something magical about proper roulette – choosing your favourite numbers, placing your chips on the green baize.

Then an expectant hush followed by the croupier’s spin and the whiz and ­clatter of the ball as it settles.

But I found there was no magic in playing the game on a controversial casino-style machine at a bookies – especially as I blew £500 in just 48 minutes.

The Sunday People is campaigning for tough regulations to control fixed odds betting terminals, on which punters can lose up to £100 in 20 seconds. So I decided to try one for myself.

I went to a bookies near my House of Commons office, where MPs go for a flutter on the horses.

In 2006 there were 16,000 of these gaming machines in the UK. But the number more than doubled to 33,000 after rules were relaxed to allow up to four in each betting shop.

At the shop they were all in use. When one became free I bet by feeding cash into the stake slot.

And after a few spins it became clear why these machines are called the crack cocaine of gambling. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience and not just because I lost.

It was not exciting like the real thing. Boring, if anything.

Part of me wished I was doing something else. But another part was engrossed. I kept winning. But never quite enough. And all the time my cash was trickling away through losses.

So I kept chasing the losses with new bets. I rarely bet and I’m no compulsive gambler but I soon saw I was beginning to behave like one.

I started with moderate stakes, betting on odd or even numbers, red or black. I won moderate amounts, so I upped the stakes. A £50 bet returned £20 but another £50 produced nothing.
Losses: Nigel in action

The next spin returned £70. I bet £40 in £10 stakes on black odd numbers, a block of 12 numbers and on the square which covers all numbers between 19 and 36.

I got my £40 back so I repeated the formula and got another £40. Then I tried a third time...and nothing.

So I went for the big money. I bet £100 in £10 chips on the line of numbers down the middle of the table. Landing on any of them would have paid £360 – but I lost the lot.

Next I lost £50, put in another £30 and won £90. Then I lost another £50. I tried £40 in £10 stakes on blocks of four numbers but got no return. So I put on £5 chips rather than £10 ones, bet £30 and got back £55.

I repeated that bet and got nothing, repeated it again and won £45. So I repeated it a third time – this time with £10 chips and got £40.

The machine was eating my money but at a steady, rather than furious, rate.

The guy playing more modestly next to me looked concerned and suggested I might lower my stakes.

Which was more than the staff in the betting shop did.

No one approached to ask if I was all right.

Had I been restricted to a £2 maximum stake, losing all my money would have taken much longer. And it is likely I would have given up earlier.

As it was I was soon down to the last £2.25 of the £500 I had started with. I put it all on red 1 in one last bet – and the virtual ball landed on red 23.

I was cleaned out. Every penny I had when I walked through the door less than an hour before had gone.

Next year betting shops will roll out a voluntary code of conduct, which will allow players to set their own limits.

Customers will get alerts after spending either 30 minutes or £250 on the machines.

In my case I doubt it would have made much difference. I knew how much I was losing and just wanted to win it back.

The Association of British Bookmakers said: “We never stop looking at ways to increase player protection.

“That’s why we have introduced a new code of conduct with a range of measures. It would be wrong to judge them before they come into effect.”

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