The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes for LGiU on the growing problem of betting shops on our high streets
The high speed, high stakes casino gaming machines in betting shops now constantly in the news have been described as “the crack cocaine of gambling”, and evidence suggests they are the most addictive form of gambling in the UK. It is these gaming machines, more commonly known as Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs) that are driving the clustering and proliferation of betting shops on our high streets.
Each betting shop is limited to four FOBTs, but they are so profitable that bookmakers can now afford to open multiple outlets on prime, high street locations in an attempt to maximize the number of machines. This is also contributing to higher rents and pricing many other local businesses off the high street. Whilst the number of betting shops has increased since 2005 by around 600, it is the relocation of tertiary shops to high streets that is compounding the problem for local authorities whose powers to curb their proliferation are restricted.
The economic downturn has led to pawnbrokers, payday lenders and betting shops permeating our public spaces, and it is the most deprived areas that are suffering the most. Research carried out by Geofutures found there to be more than twice as many bookmakers in areas of high unemployment than in areas of low unemployment, and local authorities who may have once welcomed the opportunity to fill empty units are now resistant to businesses that employ very few people – and extract huge amounts of money from the local economy.
FOBTs are a very labour unintensive form of consumer spending, and research carried out by Landman Economics found that for every £1bn lost on FOBTs, around 20,000 jobs are lost in the wider economy. Last year, bookmakers made £1.5bn from FOBTs alone, and this is projected to rise to around £3.2bn in the next ten years – costing the wider economy a further 22,000 jobs. This loss is a consequence of both FOBTs facilitating a reduction in staff and that gaming machines produce no economic multipliers. Essentially, money lost on FOBTs – a figure that stands between £873 and £1,200 per week per machine – does not translate into many jobs.
Curtailing the spread of betting shops is proving very difficult for local authorities who are determined to take a stand. At present, bookmakers are categorised as A2 financial services, so converting a former bank or an estate agent into a betting shop requires no planning permission. Even those premises that do require a change of use are often granted it on the basis that the local authority will face legal action if planning permission is refused. As well as a planning issue it is also a licensing one, and the law appears to be firmly on the side of the bookmakers where premise licensing is concerned. We have put together an objection package that would enable any local community representatives to object strongly to any new premise license applications.
With as many as 300 new betting shops planned for 2013 alone, it is imperative that local authorities and Councillors do all they can to resist bookmakers increasing their coverage on the high street of what even 87% of players describe as addictive gambling. As well as an objection package, we are also setting up a working group with a number of local authorities so we can lobby with a unified voice for a stake reduction. The Government has the power to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs without primary legislation. Reducing the stake from £100 to £2 would bring FOBTs in line with all other gaming machines and help to reduce clustering and its negative effects.
If you want to oppose a new betting shop on your high street, download our comprehensive objection package from our website.
Notes to editors:
About the Campaign for Fairer Gambling
It is a campaign striving for fairness in gambling. So, the campaign is centred around the three licensing objectives of the Gambling Act 2005, aimed at:
- preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime,
- ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and
- protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.
The Campaign aims to:
- Engage with politicians to toughen legislation
- Gather evidence of unfairness and non-transparency
- Rally support from special interest groups to highlight the negative social and economic impact caused by problem gambling under the current legislation
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling www.fairergambling.org is a not-for-profit entity funded by Derek Webb and Hannah O’Donnell. It recently launched the “Stop the FOBTs” campaign to highlight the problems associated with Fixed Odds Betting Terminals www.stopthefobts.org.
Rachael van Oudheusden/Lucy Knighton
0115 948 6900