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Hounslow Council shames Westminster Council, the Gambling Commission and DCMS

Derek Webb | Campaign for Fairer Gambling

5 min read Partner content

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes following a licensing breach, involving Betfred & Jenningsbet betting shops which served underage gamblers in test purchases carried out by a local authority.

Earlier this year, the Sunday People and Sun journalists descended on Hounslow high street after it was given the dubious award for the biggest losses on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). With estimated losses of £2.8 million a year on the west London high street FOBTs, spanning 11 betting shops, the Sun declared the likelihood of “anarchy” with players smashing machines up.

What none of those papers uncovered, but Hounslow's licensing team has, is under age gambling on FOBTs. As a result, they have responded as Councils should, by imposing strict regulatory conditions on those betting shops.

Here’s what Hounslow found and how they responded:

“Two high street betting shops which allowed a 15-year-old to gamble on a fixed odd betting terminal (FOBT) have had strict conditions placed on their licences by Hounslow Council.

Betfred in Brentford and Jenningsbet in Hounslow allowed an undercover police cadet to enter their shops and turned a blind eye to him betting on machines which have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling.

At Hounslow Council’s Licensing Panel hearing, both companies stated that this was the first licence review they have received from a local authority relating to underage sales.

Both bookies were caught allowing the teenager to use the FOBT twice during underage test purchases carried out by Hounslow’s licensing team. The test purchaser was only challenged when he approached the counter and asked for change.

After each test purchase, Betfred and Jenningsbet were made aware of the results and warned about the potential repercussions on their licences if more failures followed.

Betfred have more than 1,000 stores in the UK. Jenningsbet have more than 100 branches.

Allowing a child to enter a premises and allowing them to gamble are both offences.

The following conditions, proposed by the licensing team, were imposed by the Licensing Panel:

  • FOBT’s to be relocated to an area easily visible to the counter staff.

  • Installation of 24-hour CCTV, with screens on the counter so staff can monitor footage.

  • CCTV to be stored for a minimum of 31 days and made available for inspection by council or police.

  • Posters in premises advertising the Challenge 25 age verification scheme.

  • Installation of a door chime to alert staff when customers enter and exit.

  • Magnetic locks on entrance doors and toilets, which are controlled by staff from the service counter.

  • Training on age verification to take place on induction and before staff work on the counter.

  • Refresher training at intervals of no less than 12 months.

  • Copy of training records (signed and dated by staff members) to be kept on the premises and made available for inspection.

  • Any changes of layout to be agreed in advance with the council and police.

  • Two members of staff on duty at all times.

Jenningsbet’s request to contest the number of staff on duty was rejected by the Licensing Panel.

Both companies have 21 days to appeal the decision at magistrates’ court. They will be re-tested once they have introduced the new measures.

This month’s licensing review came about following an extensive undercover operation by the licensing team which saw them visit 22 betting shops across the borough.

Twelve bookmakers were warned after they were found to be breaking the law by allowing underage teens to gamble unchallenged.

View the licensing panel decision

Hounslow Council's cabinet member for enforcement, Councillor Sue Sampson said: “Fixed Odds Betting Terminals aren’t toys. They’re known as the crack cocaine of gambling for a reason. Our licensing team has worked hard to protect our young people from these highly addictive machines by sending in teenagers undercover to see how bookies react. This is first time either Jenningsbet or Betfred have been called up before a licensing panel and the first time we have placed such strict restrictions on bookmakers.

"We hope this action sends a clear message to other bookies in the borough. You could be the next to be on the receiving end of our licensing team’s next underage, undercover operation."

Hounslow's firm action against the bookmakers, particularly imposing a condition requiring double staffing at all times, puts Westminster Council to shame. The best they could do against a William Hill and a Coral shop for serious breaches of their licence was to make them double staff from 7pm at night. By coincidence, the same bookmakers do not currently single staff after this time anyway!

It is a serious failing though of the Gambling Commission, and their weak penalties, that bookies are still profiting from transgressions. No personal licenses are revoked in corporate bookmakers and no meaningful fines imposed.

DCMS introduced the £50 per spin threshold measure, claiming this would lead to staff interventions to reduce problem gambling. If DCMS staff had spent any time in betting shops in deprived areas and talked to staff and gamblers, they would have known that this measure could never deliver.

Lone staff in betting shops are incapable of preventing under-age FOBT gambling, FOBT money-laundering, criminal damage to FOBTs and FOBT problem gambling. 

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