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Stop concentration of betting shops on high streets, say local authorities

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Stop concentration of betting shops on high streets, say local authorities

Post by jock2007 on Thu Nov 27, 2014 7:55 pm

Randeep Ramesh The Guardian, wrote:
Stop concentration of betting shops on high streets, say local authorities
Move against ‘unregulated casino-style gambling’ comes from 93 boroughs, with call to reduce stakes on fixed-odds terminals

 Stop concentration of betting shops on high streets, say local authorities Photograph: Graeme Robertson  

More than a quarter of all local authorities in England have joined forces to use the coalition’s “localism” legislation to block the clustering of betting shops on high streets that offer “unregulated casino-style gambling”.
Ninety-three local authorities – spanning Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem control – have demanded, under the Sustainable Communities act, that ministers consider reducing the maximum stakes on betting shop gaming machines, also known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), from £100 a spin to £2.

The act forces ministers to consider the request and even if they reject it, the government will then have to engage in talks with an appointed go-between, in this case the Local Government Association, to agree a compromise.The councils believe they have a good case and claim there is now “significant crime and anti-social behaviour associated with betting shops”.

Newham council, which is leading the coalition, says that in 2013/14 there were 9,308 “customer incidents related to gambling activity in betting shops (which) required police assistance, with an average call out of 179 times per week to bookmakers”. It added: “In Newham, police officers are called to an incident of crime or anti-social behaviour related to a betting shop every day.”

There are also concerns that they have contributed to levels of problem gambling as punters in bookmakers can bet £100 every 20 seconds on roulette. A growing number of authorities say they have seen a rise in the number of bookies opening in high streets, thanks to lax planning laws. The temptation of high-speed, high-stake casino games in the high street proved irresistible: there are now about 33,000 FOBTs in the UK - a decade ago there were barely any.

Newham also pointed research showing that in the 55 most deprived areas of England, there are double the number of betting shops, compared to the 115 most affluent localities. Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of Newham, said that previous attempts to roll back the advance of the machines has been “thwarted by the lack of tough regulations and the toothless court system”.

“Some 93 councils, of all political parties, have signed up to our Sustainable Communities act, the largest number ever, to urge government to bring an end to casino-style gambling on the high street, and prevent betting shops from clustering and destroying our shopping districts, especially in deprived areas.”
Other parties have backed the call. Tory executive leader of Fareham borough council, Seán Woodward, said: “Fareham supports reducing the availability of what has been termed the crack cocaine of gambling and has already supported its own motion to do just that. Irresponsible gambling ruins lives and reducing the stake to £2 will help protect our more vulnerable citizens.”

However the Association of British Bookmakers said: “There is no evidence that a reduction of the stake to £2 will have any impact on problem gambling. Betting shops are situated in major commercial centres and 84% of betting shops are located in commercial centres where the demand is highest.”
It said that the industry had introduced a “voluntary code” for FOBTs where there would be more breaks in play. “The majority of customers stop playing after reaching their voluntary limits and self-exclusions have gone up by 35% in the last six months as a result of customer interactions with staff in shops.”

Labour said it would follow the case with interest. Clive Efford, the shadow sports minister, told the Guardian that the party had decided to offer councils the power to unilaterally reduce the number of machines in betting shops as a way of combating clustering. “I have not seen the evidence that reducing the stake to £2 helps. My problem is that the government has promised to tackle the problem by forcing people who play the machine to get permission to bet large stakes but we have not seen any powers put before MPs that will enact that.”
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: “We believe that the measures the government is taking, combined with a mandatory and toughened code as well as more regular warning messages and breaks, are sufficient to improve player protection.”
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