LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The British government will examine whether popular gaming machines in betting shops are fuelling problem gambling but favours leaving stakes and prizes unchanged until there is firm evidence of a link.
The fixed-odds betting terminals offer roulette and casino games and have a maximum stake of 100 pounds ($160) per spin. Critics say that these machines are dangerously addictive and are a particular problem in poorer parts of the country.
For bookmakers such as William Hill and Ladbrokes , the machines help to ensure the viability of high street betting shops at a time when more people are switching to online gambling. The machines now account for almost half of the profits from betting shops.
"The Government's response balances the need to acknowledge gambling's contribution to the economy with an explicit recognition of the need to protect players, particularly at the higher-end stakes," Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said on Tuesday.
"We recognise the current concerns about the impact of such machines, are undertaking an evidence-based review and will take action if necessary."
Responding to a parliamentary committee report, the government rejected a recommendation to scrap the restriction on the number of machines. Betting companies will continue to be limited to a maximum of four per shop.
Anti-gambling campaigners say that bookmakers get around the rule by opening clusters of shops in less affluent areas where rents are low.
Lobby group Campaign for Fairer Gambling wants maximum stakes cut heavily to 2 pounds and the gaps between each spin lengthened to ensure that large sums are not swallowed swiftly.