Labour leader David Miliband has initiated a debate in parliament on Labour’s proposal to restrict the growth of bookmakers and fixed-odds betting terminals.
If Labour regain power, they have promised to change planning laws across Britain, allowing councils to prohibit or reduce the amount of bookmakers and fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT).
In addition to this, Miliband has pledged to reduce the maximum stake on FOBT’s from £100 per play to £2 per play, arguing that terminals are “spreading like an epidemic … causing debt and misery”.
David Cameron has welcomed the opposition day debate but would wait for the results of a current report before deciding on whether to take action on the betting industry in the Spring.
At present there are 33,209 FOBT’s across the UK and since the coalition gained power their profits have risen from £1.3bn to £1.5bn, comprising nearly half of the annual profit for big bookmakers.
The four ELL boroughs have a high proportion of bookmakers and FOBT’s – there are five times more betting shops in the ELL boroughs than there are in more affluent boroughs like Wimbledon, Richmond and Barking.
Fairer Gambling, a non-profit organisation which campaigns to reduce the number of FOBTs argues these highly profitable terminals are “the crack cocaine of gambling” because of their high addictive potential.
Adrian Parkinson, a consultant for Fairer Gambling and a former betting industry insider 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.”
Parkinson added: “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.”
Hackney is widely believed to have the greatest geographical concentration of bookmakers in the UK. According to statistics from Fairer Gambling, there are 67 betting shops and 246 FOBT’s across the borough.
The Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe has been campaigning to limit the amount of high street bookmakers and FOBT’s since 2010.
In Tower Hamlets, a borough which has 76 betting shops and 279 FOBT’s, Labour councillors have also campaigned to extend local authority powers to restrict the proliferation of bookmakers.
Steve Shaw, National Co-ordinator of Local Works spoke to East London Lines about the challenges facing Tower Hamlets: “The problem you’ve got is that betting shops are concentrated in areas where there are poorer, more vulnerable communities. That is their business model, and that is a fact. You just have to look at the statistics on where betting shops are.”
Lewisham is also a borough renowned for bookmakers, in 2011 the borough spent over £394million on gambling, giving bookmakers a profit of £12.3million in a single year.
Lewisham currently has 73 betting shops and 267 FOBT’s, what’s more, it was recently granted permission to open a new betting shop on Sydenham road, despite objections from local councillors and residents.
Annabel McLaren, chair of the Sydenham Society, a local amenity society has campaigned against the bookmakers which will be the third of its kind on the high street.
McLaren said: “The law is on the side of the gaming industry. It’s a shame they didn’t retain [the space] for another restaurant – the high street is short of them.”
Nevertheless, Paddy Power responded by arguing that there were “no grounds for refusal” of the license, stating that “The current law allows the proliferation of betting shops.”
In September, Croydon was also granted the permission to open a third Paddy Power bookmaker on London road, despite opposition from from a number of local businesses and concerns over increased gambling problems in the Croydon North constituency.
Croydon is currently home to 70 betting shops and 257 FOBT’s according to statistics from Fairer Gambling.
Fairer Gambling has developed an online application which people can use to find out how many betting shops and FOBT’s are in their local constituencies. In addition to this, it measures the total amount of money which has been gambled in the area and the total profit bookmakers are making from gamblers’ losses.