Gambling with lives

WHENEVER a new betting shop opens I get letters from constituents concerned about how easy it is to gamble.

It’s one of the odd things about a recession that even though money is tight the amount spent on gambling and alcohol, and even drugs, goes up as people look for a quick way out of debt, or perhaps a quick way out of everything.

A recent report on gambling showed some worrying trends.

The number of betting shops and fixed odds betting terminals, now a feature in most bookies, has increased fastest in poorer areas.

When the latest Gambling Act was passed, Parliament agreed to keep these terminals under review, particularly regarding maximum stakes and the speed of play.

But the current government has scrapped the Gambling Prevalence Survey, making it difficult to track the impact.

In North Tyneside there are currently 37 betting shops and 134 fixed odds betting terminals. Each machine takes around £33,000 a year and taken together millions of pounds is gambled.

The prevalence of shops and machines is highest in poorer areas taking on average four times more. Like pay day loan companies they seek to profit from the poorest.

Perversely, betting shops are dealt with under planning rules as financial institutions. If a bookie wants to follow a bank into a building they may not even need planning permission.

One answer would be to put betting shops into their own planning use category, giving local authorities, and most importantly residents, more power. Even the Portas Review noted how betting shops are distorting town centres.

It’s time to change the rules to give residents a bigger say.