New figures show that gamblers in Chelmsford have lost almost £3 million last year on high-tech betting machines.

Described as the “crack cocaine of the high street”, the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are machines which allow gamblers to play up to £100 a go on virtual versions of games, such as roulette and blackjack.

Figures released by gambling awareness charity, Stop the FOBTs, found gamblers have lost an estimated £2,868,482 on the machines in Chelmsford in 2016 - and a cumulative loss of £19,433,536 between 2008 and 2016.

A spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers said: “People choose to spend their money on a range of leisure pursuits including going to the cinema, eating out  in restaurants or going to the pub.

"Far more will have been spent on most of these activities by people in Chelmsford and across Essex than has been spent on gambling in bookmakers.

“Nationally, gambling on machines in bookmakers represents just 13 per cent of the total money spent on gambling.

“The ABB strongly encourages all those engaging in gambling activities to gamble responsibly and in Chelmsford bookmakers employ over 150 highly trained staff to provide help to anyone getting into difficulties with their gambling.

“Gaming machines in betting shops have a range of responsible gambling measures that are not replicated in other venues such as amusement arcades.”

In Chelmsford, there are 55 FOBTs across 15 betting shops including Corals, William Hill and Ladbrokes.

It has been estimated by Stop the FOBTs that the amount of cash inserted last year in FOBTs in Chelmsford came to £11,473,928 whilst the amount gambled came to £61,687,784.

Julia Jeapes, Conservative councillor for Chelmsford Council, said: “I think it’s a very emotive subject.

There are things in place now to control gambling addiction but it is an area where we need to be careful are there are people who are addicted to gambling.”

Bookmakers pay 25 per cent tax on the profit they actually make on gaming machines, increased from 20% in 2014, and campaigners are trying to reduce the stake to £2 per spin.