Bookmakers plan to shop test roulette-type gaming machines - Monday 11th of December 2006

Bookmakers are planning to trial roulette-based gaming machines in their shops, despite opposition from Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.

The bookies intend introducing "fixed-odds betting terminals" on a limited trial basis, possibly in the new year. Most firms, except Paddy Power, are backing the plan.

Fixed-odds betting terminals are slot-machine-style devices that allow punters to bet on roulette and other numbers-based games for small stakes. They pay out at predetermined or "fixed" odds.

They are common in British bookmakers. Ladbrokes annual report estimates that, in 2005, each of the companys fixed-odds terminals won an average of £545 (€810) a week.

Mr McDowell recently told the Dáil that he was opposed to their introduction. But he said he would wait for the report of a group he has appointed to recommend a system for regulating casinos in the Republic before taking action. That report is due this month.

Celtic Bookmakers owner and former Fine Gael government minister Ivan Yates told The Irish Times that bookmakers intend waiting for that report before going ahead with the trials of the machines. "It looks like that will recommend legalising roulette, and if it does that has profound implications for the whole gaming industry," he said.

Bookies are not allowed to operate slot machines. Mr Yates said the Irish Bookmakers Association had taken legal advice on the status of the fixed-odds betting terminals and has been assured that they are not slot machines. The numbers are generated randomly by a central computer. The game is "broadcast" to the individual machines in bookmakers shops via Satellite Information Systems (SIS), a network that provides live pictures of racing and other events to bookies shops.

"The odds are fixed. That means that if everybody bets on red, for example, it will make no difference to the result; red can still come up," he said.

Mr Yates said this was different from slot machines, which are stand-alone and calibrated to ensure that most bets are losers. "Bookmakers can lose on fixed-odds betting terminals."

TD Tony Gregory, who raised the issue in the Dáil, claimed yesterday that their introduction could have a high social cost.

"The people who will be losing the most money on machines will be those who are most vulnerable and who can least afford to lose money."

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