JOIN THE BIG DEBATE: Do betting shops ‘cluster’ our high streets and attract crime?

Fixed Odds gambling at a High Street bookmaker's

Fixed Odds gambling at a High Street bookmaker's - Credit: Assoc of British Bookmakers

A quarter of all local authorities in the country, led by Newham Council in east London, have joined forces to use legislation to block betting shops clustering in high streets with unregulated casino-style gambling. They want the £100-a-spin maximum stakes on fixed odds gaming machines to be cut to just £2. This, they say, would reduce “extraneous profits” that attract so many betting shops to high streets with the “crime and anti-social behaviour” associated with them. Newham says police are called to incidents involving a betting shop every day in its area. But the Bookmakers Association says there is no evidence that reducing the stake to £2 will have any impact on problem gambling, despite what the Mayor of Newham claims. Most gamblers stop after reaching their voluntary limits, it maintains...

£2 Fixed Odds limit... FOR: Sir Robin Wales [left], AGAINST: Paul Darling, QC

£2 Fixed Odds limit... FOR: Sir Robin Wales [left], AGAINST: Paul Darling, QC - Credit: Newham Council + Assoc of British Bookmakers

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, is leading the coalition of 93 local authorities who want the Sports minister to use the ‘localism’ legislation to reduce the fixed odds:

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Residents have for a long time been telling me that they want to see an end to the blight of bookies on our high streets.

We have made good on our electoral promise to stand up for residents, business owners and our high streets and called on the government to take action against the high stakes gaming machines, known as fixed odds betting terminals—or the “crack cocaine” of gambling—which are the cause of the proliferation of betting shops in Newham.


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We have seen a 30 per cent increase in betting shops in the past seven years—there are 86 in Newham, with 17 alone in High Street North in East Ham.

This clustering of bookies strangles high streets, kills employment, sucks away spending from retail stores and leads to anti-social behaviour.

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Now, 93 councils across the country and across the political divide have come together to demand the reduction of the maximum stake on these machines from £100 to £2. This would bring them in line with other gaming machines in bingo halls and arcades.

The Association of British Bookmakers argues that reducing the stakes would not stop problem gamblers.

But it would certainly curtail their losses.

The industry’s own proposals to help addicts have previously been tried in 2004 and resulted in zero take-up by gamblers before it was scrapped.

Cutting the stakes would kill two birds with one stone—the loss in profits should force the closure of the extraneous stores on our high streets.

We have tried to stop the proliferation of betting shops, such as refusing licences—but the six we have refused since 2010 have been overturned on appeal. We have backed proposals to stop bookies being grouped with banks and estate agents in planning regulations.

Now all we ask is a simple change in the stakes. There’s no need for new legislation, no law needs to be amended. All that has to happen is for Sports Minister Helen Grant to hear our call and to exercise her right to reduce the stakes to £2 limit.

For as long as residents want us to, we will keep fighting against the greedy bookmakers who are strangling our high streets.

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Paul Darling, QC, the Association of British Bookmakers’ chairman, is offering to meet Sir Robin face-to-face, but says he first wants to “correct the facts” about betting shops in high streets:

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Given there is only one betting shop for every 3,500 people living in Newham, some of the claims made by the Mayor are – excuse the pun – at odds with the facts.

Newham has an estimated population of around 300,000, larger than many cities and towns outside London.

Of course there will be more bookmakers here than elsewhere, with 84 per cent being in commercial centres with high population density. Those bookmakers employ 500 people and many have been trading for many years.

The size of a stake on particular games on a betting shop terminal – where customers can choose dozens of games alongside betting on horse-racing, football or who will win ‘Strictly’ – would make no difference to where a shop is located.

Betting shops work on the same basis as other retailers, opening where there is customer demand.

That said, we have listened to concerns people have, which is why we have introduced our Code for Responsible Gambling, welcomed by politicians of all parties.

The Code includes the ability for a gaming machine player to set a limit—for the first time anywhere in the world—on the amount they play for or spend.

Evidence shows the overwhelming majority stick to those limits. Data published last week shows the average stake on a gaming machine is just £5.13.

Eight million people a year share the excitement of watching sporting events with friends in betting shops. We attract shoppers to high streets where one-in-seven retail outlets is vacant.

We have been working with the Local Government Association on an agreement in the New Year and just last month signed a responsible gambling partnership with Medway Council in Kent.

So we are happy to meet the Mayor of Newham to discuss any issues of concern. +++

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