Tough new gambling policy to protect children, ill and elderly

William Hill betting shop, Pic: Alex Mistlin

Betting shops are to banned from opening anywhere near to schools, hospitals and old people’s homes under a tough new gambling policy agreed by Tower Hamlets Council

The borough has double the national average percentage of problem gamblers and policy will also ban shops near anywhere gamblers anonymous meetings are presently held. 

In a statement, Ann Sutcliffe, Corporate Director of Place Directorate, said: “We know that gambling can take people down a difficult path and that the young, the vulnerable and those experiencing financial hardship are at particular risk of being lured in.”

The proximity of betting shops to local secondary schools is an area of particular concern. While 16 and 17-year-olds are barred from them, many illegally use the gaming machines as they are rarely supervised.  

In their 2016 gambling factsheet the council estimated that 1.3 per cent of the population could be considered problem gamblers with a further 3 per cent at moderate risk, double the national average for a local authority. 

The council has already enforced very strict gambling restrictions, including, a refusal to license a casino in the area. The last time the council granted a new gambling license was in 2014 to the Paddy Power on Roman Road.

While Tower Hamlets only have a limited number of powers as a licensing authority – national regulation is the remit of the Gambling Commission – the borough council say they are proactively striving to reduce the number of problem gamblers in the area.  

Coral betting shop Pic: Alex Mistlin

A Tower Hamlets spokesman said to EastLondonLines: “The new Gambling Policy is aimed at reducing problem gambling in the borough. Our Trading Standards team work with licensed premises to identify issues linked with harmful outcomes for customers. It is designed to provide a safe environment for customers who choose to gamble and restrict access for children and vulnerable people.” 

As well as restricting the number and location of new gambling premises, the council heavily lobbied the government for a change of law on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT). The maximum stake was cut from £100 to £2 in April 2019.  

Although Tower Hamlets’ policy will limit the number of betting shops in the area, the new restrictions have been welcomed in some corners of the industry. A spokesperson from Flutter, who operate seven ‘Paddy Power’ betting shops in the borough, told East London Lines: “We are committed to always looking to innovate to ensure any risk of gambling related harm is minimised. Our Responsible Gambling training is rigorous from staff induction to regular refresher sessions and spot checks by an independent organisation to ensure we are continually maintaining the highest possible standards”

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