Eastlondonlines’ boroughs have the highest percentage of gambling losses in London despite being among those heaviest hit by unemployment, according to a recent report.
There are five times more betting shops in Lewisham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Croydon than in more affluent boroughs such as Wimbledon, Richmond and Barking. In boroughs with the highest rates of unemployment, the average amount gambled is five times higher than in their wealthier counterparts.
Fairer Gambling, a non-profit organisation which campaigns to reduce the number of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), released the report last week in a bid to combat problem gambling. It is based on the financial year ending 2011, the most recent figures are due to be announced in March.
The report compares gambling figures in the UK parliamentary constituencies with the highest number of benefit claimants ,to those with the lowest number of claimants. It also looked at the amount spent on FOBTs.
It found that a gambler can risk losing £100 in a 20 second spin of the wheel on a betting machine. On average a gambler loses approximately £2,000 a year on these machines, earning bookmakers an estimated £600million.
Fairer Gambling suggests a correlation between a borough’s unemployment level and the number of betting shops in the area. For example, Lewisham has one of the highest spending rates in London with an unemployment rate of just over 5% – 1.5% higher than the national average. The borough spent over £394million on gambling in 2011, giving bookmakers a profit of £12.3million in a single year.
Adrian Parkinson, who assembled the report for Fair Gaming, said: “The Gambling Act 2005 limits each betting shop to four FOBTs – so bookies leapfrog regulations by opening up as many shops as possible, which is why we get clustering, especially in poorer areas as our research has shown.
“We believe the only way to stop machine-driven proliferation of betting shops is to make the machines less profitable. So we recommend reducing the maximum stake from £100 down to £2, increasing the time between plays, and removing table game content.”
In the House of Commons on Thursday, Culture minister Hugh Robertson said there would be no curb on FOBTs, justifying the lack of government intervention by saying: “Once the problem is proved to exist, the government will act”.
However, Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman told the BBC on Friday that she believed that the proliferation of gambling shops was causing “a blight on people’s lives”.
She said: “We’re saying to the government they must let local people decide if they don’t want betting shops and that means changing the planning laws.”
A spokesperson for Hackney council said said: “This has been a concern for Hackney Council for some time, and we’re lobbying the government to give local authorities the power to prevent the proliferation of bookmakers in areas where residents are concerned.”
Mayor Jules Pipe said: “We’ve been campaigning for some time for a change in the law that would allow us to speak out on behalf of our residents if they object to the number of betting shops opening in their area.
“The council is not trying to close down all bookmakers, but if local people tell us they don’t want three or four opening up in their neighbourhood, we think we should be allowed to represent them and prevent more from opening. Current planning law prevents us from being able to do anything about that, which is very frustrating.”
However, the gambling industry rejects the suggestion that by operating in poorer areas they are preying on the vulnerable.
A spokesman for the Association of British Bookmakers told The Guardian last week: “The idea that bookmakers target vulnerable communities is both false and offensive.
“Like any other retailer, we locate our shops where footfall is high and rents are affordable. These factors vary, which explains there can be different numbers of shops in different parts of the country.”
In response to the statistic that Croydon North spent £162million on gambling last year, Councillor Simon Hoar, cabinet member for community safety and public protection, said: “With alcohol licenses we can put on community impact zones. This means if certain areas are experiencing trouble with anti social behaviour due to drinking, we can restrict the number of off licenses, which are there. It would be good to have a similar regulation for betting shops.”
Fair Gaming is also working to develop a website, planned to launch in February, where people will be able to input their postcode and see how many betting shops are in their constituency, as well as the total amount to have been gambled in that area and the total profit bookmakers are making from gamblers’ losses.
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