Ahead of the Grand National, one of the bookies’ favourite days of the year, Northumberland County Council is one of 63 local authorities demanding the Government change the planning law to stop the spread of betting shops.
At present, betting shops are classed as A2 financial services, which means they are in the same planning category as banks and estate agents.
This means they very often move into premises without requiring planning permission. Bookmakers are then easily able to acquire a premise license as the law states councils must “aim to permit” new betting shops.
If successful, the campaign to put betting shops back in their own planning use class would enable councils to refuse new planning applications from bookmakers. Local Works, which has amassed the support of 63 local authorities from across the country, said: “The clustering of betting shops – particularly in poorer areas – has become a significant problem for many communities in recent years.
“The proliferation of betting shops has caused an increase in gambling addiction, leading to family and social breakdown as well as an increase in crime. It is great to see 63 councils joining forces and using the Sustainable Communities Act to address this – now government has to sit up and listen.”
The spread of betting shops is a highly contentious issue as it is thought to be driven by fixed odds betting terminals, machines that have been dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling” because of their addictive characteristics.
Bookmakers are limited to four terminals per shop, a regulation that is circumvented by opening as many outlets as possible, which is what has led to “clusters” of betting shops appearing on the high street. Last year in Northumberland, £31,636,636 was inserted into fixed odds betting terminals alone, leading to losses of £6,010,961 - the equivalent of £565 for every FOBT gambler in the borough.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “Whilst putting betting shops back in their own use class is a welcome step in the right direction, at best it will stem the problem of fixed odds betting terminals rather than solve it. To be fully effective, planning reforms should also include a demand test.“Councils should not have to aim to permit new betting shops either, and they should not be subjected to legal challenges when they object. Alongside planning reforms, the Government should consider reducing the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals to £2 per spin. This would stop bookmakers opening multiple outlets on the high street.”
At present, it is possible to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds on fixed odds betting terminals, which have brought high speed casino games to the high street. Last year, Ed Miliband pledged to give councils the power to ban the machines because of their links to gambling addiction.