A FURNESS-based counsellor has welcomed a government review into fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTS), saying the machines can ruin lives and lead to gambling addiction.

Amanda O'Brien, of Ulverston, is a member of the Cumbria Counselling Group (CCG) which offers free advice to problem gamblers in the county and neighbouring north Lancashire.

She says FOBTs have led to people in the county becoming addicted to gambling.

A government review began last week seeking to lower the current maximum bet from £100 to between £2 and £50, in attempt to cut huge losses suffered by vulnerable gamblers.

"In south Cumbria, I have worked with clients who say that they didn’t have a problem with gambling in betting shops until the FOBT’s were introduced and that they belong in casinos, not the high street," said Mrs O'Brien.

"The increased availability of instant gratification seems to be a problem which also explains why online gambling in all forms is causing problem gambling to increase significantly with vulnerable people.

"I’ve had clients who have lost everything – family, homes, jobs – they are bankrupt, destitute and at risk."

Mrs O'Brien welcomed the government review into maximum stakes, saying it was a chance to lessen the impact of FOBTs.

"A lower stake will potentially lower the overall losses suffered by vulnerable problem gamblers, thereby reducing the impact on them and affected others," she said.

"We should treat gambling related harm as a public health problem, like alcohol or obesity, working on prevention as well as treatment.

"Leaving the £100 stake available facilitates vulnerable people to be reckless and to gamble more money than they can afford to lose with all the negative ramifications that entails."

She also added that given gambling addiction receives less support than drug and alcohol dependency, it was important people were encouraged to get help to minimise the destruction.

"Problem gambling has only been fully recognised as a disorder since 2015," she said. "It is left to organisations such as Gamble Aware and Gamblers Anonymous to help sufferers. It is often a ‘secret’ addiction so by the time it becomes visible the devastation may be enormous with debt lasting a lifetime. The suicide rate is high, along with the loss of family and housing, the need to use food banks and going bankrupt.

"At the Cumbria Counselling Group we believe it is an illness that can be cured with the right treatment and early intervention is additionally helpful. If our society applauded and encouraged vulnerable people to get help, then the impacts wouldn’t be so destructive."