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Big Debate: Are betting shops ruining our high streets?

14:38 01 February 2013

Big Debate: Betting Shops

Big Debate: Betting Shops

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The boom in betting shops has alarmed many who want greater diversity on the high street to reinvigorate our shop areas, and they fear low income communities are being targeted. Meanwhile bookmakers say their businesses make a valuable contribution and provide entertainment and jobs.

Alicia Francis, of the Woodgrange Market Group, Forest Gate.Alicia Francis, of the Woodgrange Market Group, Forest Gate.

Alicia Francis, from the Woodgrange Market Group, Forest Gate

I don’t object to betting shops per se, but I do object to their growing dominance of our urban high streets; and the way they seem to target vulnerable communities in which people on low incomes are susceptible to the allure of a quick and easy way to make money.

We need greater diversity on our high streets; and shops, cafes, restaurants and other facilities that provide a broad retail offer, bring a little theatre to our lives and develop a sense of community and belonging.

Drik Vennix, chief executive of the British Bookmakers Association.Drik Vennix, chief executive of the British Bookmakers Association.

We should be looking at how we can do this and generate money for local people and the local economy, rather than taking it away from them and putting it in the pockets of large, faceless, corporate organisations.

The recently established and community run Woodgrange Market has brought ‘theatre,’ community and money to Forest Gate. Affordable organic veg is now available, so too artisan bread, olives, crafts, collectibles and hot lunches.

It has hosted pop-up music and two food and music festivals, becoming a vibrant community hub with more people doing their main shop on the high street.

Its success has encouraged the opening of two new local cafes, Coffee7 and Kaffeine, which have brought new jobs to the area.

However, it has not been easy. Whilst betting shops can seemingly take over former banks and other sites unchallenged, local people and small businesses wishing to open new shops, cafes and art galleries have struggled to find suitable and affordable premises.

Betting shops are not good for our high streets.

Their spread needs to be halted and more support provided to those who are keen to reclaim and revitalise our high streets, making them exciting, viable and relevant to 21st Century living.

Dirk Vennix, chief executive, The Association of British Bookmakers

While we recognise there is some public concern around the issue of electronic gaming machines (EGMs) in licensed betting offices (LBOs), much of this has been fuelled by reports based upon a ‘corrupted’ use of data and the generation of myths and outrageous claims.

Some £140million has not been spent playing on EGMs in Newham and £227million has not been spent in West Ham.

The gaming machines return 97 per cent of stakes to customers.

The real spending figures are therefore just three per cent of what is being a claimed by anti-betting campaigners.

Electronic gaming machines have been a popular feature of betting shops for more than a decade, enjoyed by millions of people every year and there is no proven causal link between machines and problem gambling.

With major retailers like HMV, Jessops and Blockbusters closing, bookmakers are investing in Newham and West Ham’s town centres and creating jobs.

In fact, in Newham the 76 betting shops employ 380 people in total, and across London betting shops employ nearly 9,000 people and contribute more than £627million a year to the capital’s economy.

Independent planning reports say that rather than taking over the high streets as is being claimed, in fact only four per cent of retail units are actually occupied by bookmakers.

The Association of British Bookmakers has had contact with the MP, police officers and local councillors in the past, and we would welcome an opportunity to meet with them again in the coming months and to talk about the real evidence and local solutions to local issues rather than general myths and half-truths.

There are a number of ways to have your say on the subject. Comment below, email us at letters@newhamrecorder.co.uk, Tweet us @NewhamRecorder, or take our online poll.

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