Drug dealers and other criminals are using fixed odds betting machines in Gloucester bookmakers to launder “dirty” money.
But betting shops would have to close if weren’t for the controversial gambling machines, say bosses.
Staff at bookmakers in Gloucestershire have been warned to watch out for customers plugging large sums of money into the electronic gambling machines before cashing out shortly afterwards and effectively “cleaning” their ill-gotten gains.
Gary Dale, shop manager at bookies David James Racing, in Oxford Street, said: “We are well aware of money being laundered on the machines, but it is extremely difficult to police.
“How can you tell if someone is using the machines to launder cash? You can’t really.
“But the machines are extremely profitable. Betting shops would close if not for the money made in these machines, simple as that.”
Dealers feed drug money through the machines, losing some of it and then cashing out with the majority of their stake. They can collect a printed receipt which means if they are stopped by police they can explain why they are carrying large sums of cash.
David James has three terminals with jackpots of around £3,000. On one machine it is £100 a spin.
“The machines are becoming more and more popular, especially among younger people aged around 19 or 20,” added Mr Gale.
“We have had a number of underage people trying to use them too, that is an issue. Betting shops are a lot more appealing now than they used to be.
“People become addicted and we have had a number of people who have self-excluded themselves. That is when they contact us with their details and a photograph so that we can turn them away when they come in.
“We do what we can. We remain vigilant and if someone is looking like they are spending a huge amount of money in them we have a word.”
At a big-name bookies in Cheltenham, one employee said: “We don’t ask people where their money comes from. They could be from any walk of life and how they get their money is their business.”
Gamblers lose up to £100 every 20 seconds on the fixed odds machines, anti-gambling campaigners say, and they have been dubbed the “crack cocaine” of the high street.
Police in the city admit they are aware of the issues of laundering money through the machines.
A spokesman for Gloucestershire Police said: “We are aware that gambling can be used as a means of laundering money and remain vigilant to such activity coming to light in this county. Criminals have come up with many ingenious ways to launder money in the past but we have intelligence systems in place to pick up on any new trends and will take action where necessary.”
The Gambling Commission licenses operators and one of their objectives is to keep crime out of gambling and prevent it from being used to support crime.
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 places a duty on gambling operators to be alert to attempts by customers to gamble money acquired unlawfully, either to obtain ‘clean’ money in return or simply as a leisure activity.
A spokesman for the Commission said they would consider reviewing the suitability suspending or revoking licences of gambling shops if they did not adhere to the act.