Shopkeepers and residents are furious that a new betting shop in Deptford High Street has been approved by Lewisham Council’s licensing committee.
Community leaders had made impassioned pleas against the new gaming site at a committee meeting last week.
Deptford High Street currently already has four betting shops, two pawnbrokers and one payday loan shop. This will soon be joined by the new gaming centre, Palace Amusements, owned by The Godden Gaming Organisation. The centre will house gaming machines and occupy a betting shop run by Coral.
Shopkeepers are deeply troubled by the new gaming site, including Gus Sidhu, who has lived and worked in Deptford for 25 years as a chief eye doctor at The Sight Centre on the high street.
Sidhu told ELL: “[Palace Amusements] aren’t social workers, they’re here to make money.”
“There are people begging on my high street. This will only suck more into poverty when trying to ‘get rich quick’. Did the council ever think about where these impoverished people get their money to bet in the machines? They get it by stealing from the local businesses. This will only escalate issues that already exist. It is a step backwards for Deptford,” said Sidhu.
The application was granted subject to conditions such as reducing opening hours to 12 noon till 11pm and a door supervisor on the premises. The gambling centre must also have quarterly contact with local charities such as Bench Outreach, a community-led charity in Deptford which supports homeless people and those with drug and alcohol problems.
Declan Flynn, Chief Executive of Bench Outreach, had highlighted to the licensing committee the links between problem gambling and homelessness, poor mental health, substance abuse and poverty.
He told ELL he is “saddened” by the decision and that the conditions placed on Palace Amusements are “wholly inadequate” to protect those in the Deptford community at risk of exploitation.
“I believe the Committee has abdicated its responsibility to protect our most vulnerable residents. In all cases of abuse, it is our collective responsibility to ensure the abuser does not have contact with the victim. In this situation, we are facilitating access,” Flynn said.
Crime and anti-social behaviour
Lewisham’s high crime rate and high instances of anti-social behaviour ware acknowledged by lawyer Andrew Woods, who spoke at the committee meeting on behalf of The Godden Gaming Organisation, but he said it had no connection to gambling.
Helena Russell, Co-Chair of the Deptford Society, a community organisation representing residents and businesses of the high street, said she was “deeply disappointed” that the license has been granted.
“Deptford’s already vulnerable and deprived community has been exploited by such operators for too long. Their businesses pose a serious risk to those already living in difficult financial circumstances. We do not believe an amusement arcade will make any positive contribution to this environment,” she told ELL.
Adult gaming shops have long been an issue for Deptford, leading to an imbalance on the high street which threatens to destabilise the vibrant shopping destination. Gamblers in Lewisham lost more than £14 million in 2013 due to the growing number of high speed gambling machines at local betting shops.
The Godden Gaming Organisation has been contacted for comment.