Gamblers to be able to bet and win twice as much on slot machines - Monday 12th of January 2009

The machines maximum payout has been raised from £35 to £70 while users will be able to stake £1 rather than 50p, under a relaxation of the rules reportedly authorised by Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary.

He agreed to the increases because "many operators across the gambling industry are finding trading conditions very difficult in the present economic climate", according to a consultation document reportedly seen by The Times.

The move is thought likely to boost revenues from machines by 20 per cent while providing the Government with a £27million-a-year injection of VAT.

The gaming industry has been extensively lobbying the Government to relax laws on gambling.

Ministers were said to have been considering a £10 rise in the biggest prize and a 10p increase in the maximum stake but were reportedly told by industry figures that this would not be enough to reinvigorate gaming during the economic downturn.

The number of machines being manufactured has fallen by 55 per cent since 2005 and revenue in arcades has dropped by 21 per cent since June 2007.

The reported decision comes a week after Gordon Brown was criticised by five archbishops, whose accusations included that the Prime Minister was leading a Government enchanted by money and which had pursued immoral policies.

Some observers warned a move to relax gambling laws as Britain enters a recession would encourage addiction.

Dr Emanuel Moran, the specialist adviser on pathological gambling at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told The Times: "Fruit machines are one of the most addictive forms of gambling, so this decision is deeply worrying.

"Of all the different types of gambling, it is fruit machines that act as a learning device, where people get hooked on the idea of gambling.

"Once they are addicted, they often move on to other kinds, particularly online gambling, and try to recoup their losses.

"Greater participation will nudge some people who were not gambling addicts closer to the edge."

It is thought that typically between 80 and 90 per cent of money bet by players is paid out in prizes internationally, yet in Britain a legal minimum limit of 70 per cent was scrapped in 2007.

The reported change to the rules comes after Mr Brown won plaudits from anti-gambling groups when he blocked proposals for a supercasino in Manchester.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told the newspaper that the Gambling Commission remained committed to enforcing tough codes of practice to protect gamblers. "The protection of children and vulnerable people is at the heart of the Gambling Act and this remains our priority," the spokesman said.

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