Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Capitalism is a sure bet

Some 430,000 people in the UK are thought to have a serious gambling problem, up from 280,000 in 2012. Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs)  make up 56% of betting shops’ profit. Since they are constrained by a legal limit of four machines per shop, imposed under the 2005 Gambling Act, bookmakers have opened multiple outlets in the most profitable areas of the country. FOBT players tend to live in neighbourhoods with higher levels of deprivation, unemployment and ethnic diversity according to a 2015 report on the socioeconomic characteristics of machine gamblers for the charity GambleAware. And it found that people who live near a concentration of betting shops are far more likely to become problem gamblers.

In Bradford, one of the most deprived local authorities in Englandone in three people aged 16-64 are not in work and those that do work earn an average weekly income of just £476, well below the average wage in the rest of the region. The city is home to a total of 62 betting shops, and is the sixth most profitable local authority area for the betting industry outside London. Gamblers there lost an estimated £10.6m on FOBTs in 2015/16, according to figures compiled for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

Bradford’s somewhat run-down Victorian shopping district dominated by building societies, banks, charity shops, and, more recently, a growing concentration of betting shops. There are 11 in barely a 250m radius, with the corner of Broadway and Bank Street the epicentre: a William Hill, a Paddy Power, a Ladbrokes and another William Hill are all next to each other.

In its submission to the government consultation, the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities, asked for councils to have further planning and licensing powers to prevent the clustering of betting shops. As things stand – despite legislation requiring specific planning permission to turn any premises into a betting shop – planning and licensing laws brought in under the 2005 Gambling Act mainly favour the bookmakers.
Since the beginning of this year, the Planning Inspectorate in England, which acts as the independent adjudicator for planning appeals, has considered five appeals by bookmakers against planning decisions by Rotherham, Lancaster, Lewisham, Greenwich and Doncaster councils. In every appeal, the local authority’s decision to refuse planning permission was overturned. In each case, the inspectorate cited the lack of conclusive evidence that social harm can be caused by betting shops. 
“We have consistently called on bookmakers to stop blighting the most deprived communities with these high-stakes machines but local authorities are hamstrung by a lack of powers,” says Robin Wales, mayor of Newham, the east London borough. Newham has a total of 84 betting shops, including 12 on one street. Since 2008, the council has rejected eight betting shop applications. Each one has been overturned by the Planning Inspectorate.
Richard Dunbar, a Bradford Labour councillor explains, “The government has cut this council’s [Bradford’s] budget in half in the last 10 years. We have less money to do the things we need to do to protect and serve our citizens. Look at the gambling industry’s £13.8bn profit (including £1.8bn just on FOBTs). Then look at a council that’s having to cut services left, right and centre. We’re obviously not going to have as much money to service appeals and go against corporate betting industry giants.”

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