English Councils Want More Power To Control Gambling

August 9, 2023
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Local councils in England do not have the power to “effectively manage local gambling premises”, according to the body that represents 315 of the 317 councils in England.

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Local councils in England do not have the power to “effectively manage local gambling premises”, according to the body that represents 315 of the 317 councils in England.

The Local Government Association (LGA) made the comment in a letter responding to the launch of a Gambling Act review white paper inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm (APPG) on June 14.

The letter was sent to Carolyn Harris MP, chair of the APPG.

A major concern highlighted by the group of councils is that “no matter how robust a council’s local area profile or licensing policy is, it is extremely difficult to use these to prevent new premises from opening in inappropriate areas because of the statutory ‘aim to permit’ gambling”.

As a result, the LGA has called for additional powers to allow elected councillors to restrict the opening of new gambling premises in areas where there are already clusters or for other reasons, such as the presence of treatment centres, schools or because of community opposition.

The LGA is pleased that the white paper contains a commitment to introduce cumulative impact assessments, the same process used to regulate alcohol premises, which allows for refusals in areas where it can have a negative impact on licensing objectives.

However, there are some limits to the proposal that the LGA is concerned about.

First, the change requires an amendment to primary legislation and the government’s commitment is to make the change "when parliamentary time allows".

“It is unclear when this would be, so we urge the government to find an appropriate legislative vehicle in a timely manner. It would be helpful if the APPG could raise this point, too,” the LGA stated.

Additionally, cumulative impact assessments will not help to prevent new premises from opening in an area with only a few gambling premises regardless of whether or not it is near a school or treatment centre, according to the association.

The Gambling Act review also pledges to give councils increased powers in relation to gambling machines in alcohol-licensed premises, which could include the ability to cancel the entitlement to additional gaming machines, vary the permit to change the number of machines allowed, or even remove the automatic entitlement to site gaming machines where there is a failure to prevent underage gambling.

“It is likely these measures will assist councils with their work on enforcement and will help to prevent young people from gambling. We are aware of councils adopting innovative approaches to try and tackle this issue,” the LGA said.

However, the LGA warns that adjusting the 80/20 ratio which governs the balance of Category C/D and Category B machines in bingo and arcade venues to 50/50 “is likely to lead to more relatively higher stakes machines in more deprived areas of the country, and this could have the potential to exacerbate gambling-related harms”.

The Gambling Commission and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport both published their first set of highly-anticipated white paper consultations in July.

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