COMMENT: ‘Unite against betting shops and we can beat this high street parasite’
PUBLISHED: 10:45 19 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:18 19 March 2014
In his latest exclusive blog, the Tottenham MP outlines the destructive spread of betting shops on our community - and what can be done to stop it.
I recently joined local campaigners and Labour’s candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, Catherine West, outside the former Sugar Cane pub on Lordship Lane to protest yet another betting shop proposal. Paddy Power has applied to convert the historic building, and the council has very limited powers to stop them.
Betting shops are mushrooming across London and residents want to prevent them: a Deloitte survey two months ago found half of Londoners wanted fewer betting shops in their high streets, while just six per cent wanted more.
There are more than 60 betting shops on Haringey’s high streets. Green Lanes has seven crammed into a 350m stretch of road; along the Tottenham High Road, there are another 13. Despite the growth in convenient online betting establishments, there was a 13 per cent increase in betting shops across London between January 2010 and December 2012. Our community is saturated with these gambling outlets, appearing in numbers far beyond what is needed to provide choice for consumers.
My concerns about these shops are not about placing a Saturday bet on the football or a flutter on the Grand National. The main trade for betting shop owners are Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – gaming machines that allow you to play casino games at casino stakes at three times the speed. It’s estimated that last year £80million was fed into such terminals in Haringey, with punters losing £15 million.
"These fixed odds betting terminals have been dubbed ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’, enabling punters to stake up to £300 a minute, or £18,000 an hour."
These terminals provide almost half of bookmakers’ over-counter profits, making them by far the single biggest income stream in retail sales. These machines have been dubbed “the crack cocaine of gambling”, enabling punters to stake up to £300 a minute or £18,000 an hour. Betting shops encourage this reckless gambling with lines of free credit to punters who win more. A single player can lose £60,000 in just a few months – and some have. This extreme gambling is not sociable, light-hearted fun; it is destructive to vulnerable families and communities.
The high streets in my constituency are besieged with chains of betting shops, clustered together with hostile, tinted windows. Bookmakers avoid the rules that limit betting terminals to just four per shop by simply opening more shops in the area. Rival chains open up next door to each other to steal custom in areas known to be most profitable.
Anyone on Harringay Green Lanes or the Tottenham High Road can tell you they are a haven for anti-social behaviour. Large numbers of men congregate outside these shops to smoke and drink, causing a nuisance and making an intimidating sight for residents. Police are frequently called out to deal with abusive patrons.
What’s worse, betting shops can be opened just about anywhere. In Tottenham, there is one next door to the outpatients ward of St Ann’s mental hospital. Five are within 150 metres of John Loughborough School – alarming, because a 2009 mystery shopper investigation at the five largest chains found 98 per cent of stores failed to stop underage customers from placing a bet.
Part of the problem is with planning law. At present, no licence change is needed for a bank, building society, cafe, pub or restaurant to be converted into a betting shop. In fact, licensing authorities must by law “aim to permit”, meaning residents or councillors cannot oppose an application simply because there are too many similar businesses nearby. And new laws coming into effect this May will allow betting shops to open up in an even wider range of premises without planning permission.
This makes blocking new betting shops hard work – but it’s not impossible. Campaigns by local residents and traders resulted in an application for premises on Agora Arcade being refused in 2008. In October 2012, bookmakers Tipico dropped a plan to open premises opposite the Salisbury pub following a wave of protests from local residents.
I am proud to support these campaigns, but we need to make it easier to oppose betting shops. In 2010 I persuaded the Labour Party to include a manifesto commitment empowering local councils and residents to oppose further betting shops. At Prime Minister’s Questions the same year, I invited David Cameron to see the problems caused by betting shop saturation on the Tottenham High Road for himself. In 2011, I tried to amend to the Government’s Localism Bill to change the use of betting shops, but the amendment was defeated by 315 Lib Dem and Tory MPs against 221 Labour votes. Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone, whose own constituency is blighted with betting shops, was among those who voted it down.
We need a national campaign to assign betting shops a unique classification, just as casinos and nightclubs do now. This will give councils a say over every betting shop application and return high streets across Britain to their local communities.
But first we need every community group and local business to oppose local applications where they appear – such as the latest proposal to convert the pub on Lordship Lane. United, our voices will be overwhelming.
+ To sign our petition against the Paddy Power application, click here.
[Blogger: David Lammy MP]