AFTER a pub was given permission to install an extra gaming machine due the huge popularity of the two it already has, Nick Statham looks into the scale of this type of gambling in our borough.

Last week licensing chiefs gave The Saddle, in Horwich, the go-ahead to install an extra gaming machine as demand for its two bandits was so high at peak times, it was causing a crowding problem.

Bolton Council’s licensing panel found the Lee Lane establishment was operating responsibly and granted permission for the additional games machine, after finding owner Amber Taverns had responsible policies in place.

But the clear popularity of the gaming machines raises the issue of how prevalent gambling of this type is in our borough - and if a balance between allowing people to enjoy a flutter and protecting the vulnerable is being found.

For Gary Roberts, operations director for Amber Taverns, which owns The Saddle, installing new machines is about satisfying customer demand.

He said: “It’s about giving the customers a better choice of machines to engage with during their visit to the pub.

“Amusement With Prize (AWP) machines have always been popular in good community pubs and many customers utilise them.

“Additional machines are installed if the local rep thinks it could do well – there’s no magic formulae.”

The machines at The Saddle are classed as category C – which have a maximum stake of £1 and a maximum prize of £100. Pubs must apply for permission from local authorities if they want to have more than two on their premises.

They are also allowed to install category D machines – which have a maximum stake of £1 and maximum cash prize of £5.

This is in stark contrast the controversial Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) found in casinos and betting shops, which currently have a maximum stake of £100 and a maximum prize of £500.

It is these machines that have been at the centre of a national debate with a number of suicides being linked to the uncontrollable addiction that befalls some who fall under their spell.

Opponents of FOBTs say that those who experience a big win can become obsessed with replicating the buzz, setting them on the path to financial ruin and, ultimately, despair.

Cllr Nick Peel was among the committee that unanimously voted in favour of The Saddle’s application, and he highlighted the difference between the two at the meeting.

And speaking to The Bolton News later he said: “The category C machines aren’t the ones that are controversial. There are other types you can be putting bigger maximum stakes in, these are the ones that are causing the problems.

“The category C machines are the smaller, less damaging ones.”

Regulation of AWPs in pubs comes under the 2003 Licensing Act.

Explaining the factors licensing authorities will take into account when deciding whether to allow pubs to have more than two gaming machines on their premises, Cllr Peel added: “A lot of these decisions at licensing are to do with the size of the pub and what regulations they have to control age restrictions.

“The machines have to be in view of the bar and have very clear signage up stating ‘over-18s only’.”

Cllr Peel said he was “Not in favour of curtailing people’s right to have a little flutter,”.

He added: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Most of us have done it and I don’t think I’ve met any moral objections.”

“If you’re putting in £1 at a time the money isn’t haemorrhaging from your pocket. It’s the higher stakes machines that are causing the national debate, they do cause real financial and social problems for people who become addicted.

“But there’s an issue with addiction to gambling on one side of the argument and harmless fun for people that just want a flutter, we have to make sure there’s an understandable difference between the two.”

However Marc Etches, CEO of GambleAware, a UK charity committed to minimising gambling related-harm said low-stake machines, were not necessarily less harmless.

He said: “All kinds of gambling carry risks, and for a problem gambler, they can be gambling in up to seven different ways.

"It’s important people talk about their gambling habits so that any possible problems can be spotted early on. We hope that all gambling companies and venues where gambling activity is permitted make it clear that there is free help and support available for at”

And Horwich North East councillor Kevin McKeon, who also sits on the licensing and regulation committee, says he is “always concerned” when licensed premises apply to increase their number of machines.

He added: “We know how addictive they can be, and how destructive of lives and families gambling can be.

“So, when an application comes in I, and other councillors, are most concerned that the people that run the premises are aware of the dangers and have policies in place to protect the public.”

The government has agreed to slash the highest-permitted stake on FOBTs to £2 after concluding they were a “social blight”, however this week it emerged this may be delayed until 2020.