Since 2007, headlines like “
Two Coral betting shops set for Gloucester” have been brandished across local newspapers up and down the country, with the outcome of any opposition again warranting headlines like “
council loses battle against Paddy power”. Over and over again these stories appear, backed up by real local anger at the powerlessness of communities and councils to determine the future of their town and city centres.
Just as Parliament dissolved for the General Election,
Eric Pickleswho himself appears to have backed 93 Councils calling for stake reduction on FOBTs, announced that betting shops will, in the future, require
For many cities and towns though, it is too late. The Association of Town and City Management, based on research by Experian Goad and featured in the Britain in 2015 publication by the Economic and Social Research Council, has revealed that between 2004 and 2012 the number of betting shops in our towns and city centres
increased by 43%. This is likely to be closer to 50% in the two years up to 2014.
As the large corporate bookmakers have relocated tertiary shops and opened new ones in the heart of what were once thriving shopping areas, the economic impact on local economies as a consequence of FOBT gambling has
depressed wages, jobs and tax revenues. An
estimated gross costto the economy now stands at 13,000 jobs for every one billion lost on the £100 spin machines.
Yet requiring betting operators to seek planning consent for new or relocated premises, as Councils already realise, will not help. They will simply face
more appeals and legal challenges.
As the Campaign warned in its submission to the consultation on planning changes – if the demand test in conjunction with planning consent is not brought back, a
disjointis created, in which the council planning department can say no, but the licensing department is obliged to “aim to permit”. So don’t expect any respite from the local news headlines covering more battles to curb betting shop proliferation in our town centres.
In the continuous cycle of stories around unhindered betting shop proliferation and FOBT stories of
collateral harm, the bookmakers and their trade body appear to have run out of any new compelling narrative to defend their corner.
Last week the Association of British Bookmakers reproduced its own appraisal of safety measures introduced to protect customers and staff in their betting shops. Measures that have been introduced since 2010 and ones that fail to address the increasing acts of crime and vandalism actually taking place in betting shops, with the Campaign of the opinion that much of this goes unreported and is caused largely by FOBT players
The result is an
increase in Police call outsto betting shops. But within the ABB article is the claim that “official police records now show that betting shops have among the lowest levels of crime compared to other high street retail sectors”. The ABB has clearly forgotten that the Campaign has already pointed out that its
Freedom of Information requests on just half of all Police forces was flawed.
Unlike our collation of evidence against FOBTs which expands each week, the bookmakers have no such evidence base, and as the Campaign pens this article today another
community attempt to block a betting shophas failed, with a local doctor saying that “the shop posed a risk to vulnerable people within the community.”
Whatever the political make-up of the next government, like the last Labour government which failed abysmally to deal with FOBTs; or the coalition government which buried its head in the sand, they too will face a weekly cycle of issues stemming from FOBTs.
But unlike the last two governments, the next resident at Number 10 will also have to answer the 93 councils across the country which are demanding action on stakes under the Sustainable Communities Act.