The new Paddy Power bookmakers’ shop in Mare Street, which opened on Saturday on the site of the former Railway Tavern pub, just doors away from a Coral (itself built on the site of the old Town Hall) brings the total of bookmakers on that street to nine.
The Gambling Act of 2005 relaxed licensing laws and saw betting shops mushroom across the capital, with 400 more betting shops in London than there were ten years ago. In Hackney alone, there are nearly 70 – three times the national average. Mayor Jules Pipe feels enough is enough. He has described betting shops as ‘sucking the money out of people’s pockets’ and argues that it is time for a change in local legislation:
“We need to implement laws similar to the special policy area we have for pubs and clubs in Shoreditch, so that no further applications can be approved. We want the powers to be able to stop this”.
Mr Livingstone, who is a candidate for Labour’s 2012 mayoral nomination, wants to give councils greater power to determine the nature of their local shopping centres. Speaking outside the site of the new Mare Street Paddy Power, he said: “When they decide they’ve got all the betting shops they need, they can make sure there’s no more. It’s not just a Hackney problem. All over London the poorest are getting more and more betting shops and pawn shops.”
Paddy Power says that, in fact, there are fewer betting shops in Hackney overall than prior to the 2005 Act. Patrick Nixon, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers concurs, saying that there has been a slight decline in the number of bookmakers operating within the M25 area since the Act came into force in 2007, possibly because of the rise in online gaming. These figures are disputed by Ken Livingstone, who cites Home Office and Gambling Commission figures which show that there were 2,095 gambling licenses in operation in London’s 33 boroughs in 2009, up from 1,721 in 2003.
Patrick Nixon did accept that some areas of London had witnessed a ‘clustering’ of bookmakers and that these were raising legitimate concerns. For that reason, he told East London Lines, the ABB would be cooperating fully with a review announced by Haringey council into the proliferatiaon of high-street betting shops. But he denied that new legislation was needed, arguing that under the current Act, local councils can refuse licences for new gambling premises where they can show ‘good and sustainable reasons’.
While bookmakers maintain that they are simply responding to demand for a service, the Local Government Association argues that lax licensing of gambling premises in deprived areas simply increases poverty: “We are a bit concerned with the number of betting shops opening in poorer areas, they’re taking advantage of people’s desperations and concerns at such a difficult time.”
Opposition to planning permission for the new betting shop was already voiced in March by Labour leadership candidate and local MP Diane Abbott: “I and the people of Hackney do not want the future of our borough to be gambled away like this. Hackney has high levels of unemployment and poverty and betting shops are a temptation to make money quick.”