Pressure continues to mount on the UK government ahead of the Gambling Act review white paper, as the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) join calls for tougher restrictions.
The LGA and APCC said in a press release it is necessary to empower councils to decide where and how many gambling premises can open in their areas, alongside a crackdown on the current volume of gambling advertising.
Interests of the local economy, community impact and the views of local residents would be taken into account when making planning decisions.
The LGA’s members include 328 of the 333 councils in England.
Councillor Nesil Caliskan, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, claimed in the announcement that councils are not anti-gambling, but desire a regulatory framework that prioritises protecting vulnerable people from gambling-related harm by empowering local communities.
Caliskan, who is also the leader of Jubilee council, said the review is a “golden opportunity” to empower councils as she said it is “unacceptable” they cannot refuse applications for new premises.
Joy Allen and David Sidwick, APCC joint leads for addictions and substance misuse said “people are committing serious crimes to fund gambling addictions”.
“We support calls for councils to have more legal flexibility and power with respect to local gambling premises and we want to see measures to get to grips with problem gambling online,” they said.
A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) said betting shops "provide a much-needed boost to the high street" and that "a study by ESA Retail found that 89 percent of betting shop customers combine their trip to the bookies with visits to other local businesses".
“Across the country, BGC members support the jobs of 119,000 people on hard-pressed high streets through betting shops, in hospitality and tourism via casinos and bingo, as well as a large and growing number of tech jobs in the online sector. Our members generate £4.5bn in tax and contribute £7.7bn to the economy in gross value added,” the BGC told VIXIO.
The LGA uses case studies in its calls for tougher regulations.
One involves an application for a bingo premises to Leeds City Council, which takes a public health approach to gambling-related harms, meaning it had information the area chosen had high levels of deprivation and many vulnerable people.
Among the vulnerable people included children with lower educational attainment and high levels of youth offences, as well as significant amounts of alcohol-related harm, according to the LGA.
Despite the council not wanting to grant the licence, the operator successfully argued they had “provisions in place to mitigate against these challenges, and due to the aim to permit, it was difficult to refuse this application”.
Currently, councils have very limited powers to prevent the opening of gambling premises, regardless of their proximity to government supported housing, addiction treatment centres or schools, the councils said.
The groups argue evidence shows gambling and betting premises are typically located in more deprived areas, where residents may be more vulnerable.
“The geography of gambling premises in Britain,” a report commissioned by the Standard Life Foundation charity in 2021 found “those with the least resources are being targeted more” as 21 percent of Britain’s 10,000 gambling venues, higher than the number of supermarkets, were in the most deprived areas, compared with just 2 percent in the wealthiest areas.
The BGC questioned both the accuracy of the data and the criticism of the industry at the report’s publication, claiming it overstated the number of premises compared with data published by the Gambling Commission.
The LGA and APCC also said problem gambling leads to “spiralling debt, homelessness and relationship breakdowns – and significant costs to taxpayers as well as individuals through crime and health impacts” and want “measures to reduce the volume of advertising and marketing”.
The groups also want a statutory levy on gambling firms, to replace the current system of voluntary industry donations funding research, education and treatment.