IT is enough to pay for 25,000 nurses, 4,371 specialist ambulances or even pay for children’s council services in Southampton for nearly 12 years.
But £502m a year is being spent on gambling machines in betting shops across Hampshire.
Latest figures reveal that up to £170 an hour is staked on each of the 337 fixed odds betting terminals up and down the county – that’s £4,087 a day.
Southampton saw nearly £200m gambled away on what has been described as the “crack cocaine of gambling” – the equivalent to the city’s entire health budget.
Today Southampton Itchen MP John Denham called on the Government to launch an urgent review of the large sums of cash frittered away on the machines.
He said: “No one begrudges people a bit of fun, but the Government needs to act urgently. It is not without cause that these machines have been described as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling world by experts.
“Some people must be gambling more than they can afford in these tough economic times. People already on the financial edge are most vulnerable to the lure of the prospect of a big win.
“With the amount of money they are taking they are ripping out the heart of many low income families.
“The review needs to look at the maximum stake per game, which is currently £100, the speed of play, and the maximum number allowed in each shop. This is a real problem that needs to be dealt with now.”
He added that there needed to be changes to planning regulations to stop the spread of betting shops, and much more support from the betting industry for those with a gambling problem.
The shocking statistics come in the week that Southampton’s very own Las Vegas-style casino moves a step closer to becoming a reality as top-level talks get under way in the city.
Leaders from the casino industry are set to meet civic bosses to discuss how the development could take shape. The city council has earmarked the major £450m redevelopment of the waterfront at the Royal Pier as its preferred location for a large casino.
These latest figures relating to gambling machines were released by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which wants the maximum stake to be reduced from £100 to just £2.
The Association of British Bookmakers said in a statement that betting shops were “socially responsible businesses” that offered a modern leisure experience to people in all walks of life and add “vibrancy”
to high streets, but welcomed a debate on the issue.
It added: “Electronic gaming machines are a highly popular feature in around 8,500 licensed betting offices and are played responsibly and enjoyably by millions of people every year.
“Their popularity does not necessarily mean that they are or cause a problem.”