New council controls on bookies

Most voters think betting machines fuel gambling addictions

Local councils will be able to refuse bookies' planning applications

First published in National News © by

Local authorities are to be given more power to control the number of betting shops opening in their area as part of a government review of gambling policy.

Gambling firms who want to open up new betting shops on the high street may find they are stopped from doing so under new plans to give local authorities more control over the make-up of their high streets.

Bookies who want to open new shops will have to submit a planning application and local councils will be able to refuse applications and stop new betting shops opening in their area.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said local communities up and down the country had expressed concerns about the clustering of betting shops on some high streets.

The current system classes a betting shop in the same category as a bank or estate agent, meaning they can open without the need for a planning application when a premises becomes vacant.

The changes will mean that local councils can scrutinise the applications and refuse them where there are grounds to do so.

The Government said it was also looking at controls on gambling advertising, including requiring betting firms to show how they were complying with social responsibility codes when they applied for a license, ensuring that controls on gambling advertising provided enough protection and working with the industry to explore initiatives to help prevent under-age access to gambling.

And it has set out plans to improve protections for players on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), including making those who want to bet more than £50 in one play to pay over the counter, meaning that they have to interact with staff.

Other measures for FOBTs include changing the rules so that users must be presented with a choice to set limits on how much they want to spend and how long they want to play for, regular warning messages and pauses in play to encourage players to be more aware of their gambling, and a strengthened voluntary self-exclusion system so that players can make a single request to be banned from betting shops.

Planning minister Nick Boles said: "This Government is taking action to support healthy and vibrant local high streets.

"This is part of a wider set of measures designed to get empty and redundant buildings back into productive use and make it easier for valued town centre businesses like shops, banks and cafes to open new premises, while giving councils greater powers to tackle the harm to local amenity caused by a concentration of particular uses."

Communities minister Stephen Williams said: " Across the country many people are concerned about the explosion in the number of betting shops in some high streets.

"The Coalition Government is determined to build a stronger economy and a fairer society with healthy and diverse high streets that aren't dominated by betting shops, this is why we are now giving councils tough new powers to prevent the proliferation of betting shops in their area."

Hackney mayor Jules Pipe said: "This announcement represents a real victory for local government and demonstrates what councils can achieve when they unite for a cause.

"Hackney Council, along with authorities across the country, has long been calling on government to give us the tools to tackle the blight of bookies in our high streets.

"At last, ministers have listened to the overwhelming weight of public and council opinion against the current betting shop free-for-all.

"We will now look into the detail of these proposals.

"If, as it appears, they could deliver the meaningful change to planning law which we've been campaigning for we will push for any new legislation to be brought in as soon as possible.

"Such changes cannot come soon enough and it's crucial councils remain united during the consultation process as we should be in no doubt the powerful gambling lobby will do its best to water down these proposals."

DCMS Minister Helen Grant said: "We want there to be a gambling sector that is vibrant and responsible. The Government wants to make sure the industry is putting player protection and social responsibility at the heart of their businesses."

Salvation Army spokesman Gareth Wallace said: " Today's announcement of a voluntary ceiling of £50 for fixed-odds betting machines is welcome but we believe a radical cut to no more than £10 per stake is necessary to stop problem gamblers from losing life-altering amounts of money. The proposal for account-based or over-the-counter betting could be beneficial because this enables breaks in play.

"Fixed-odds betting terminals, which are popping up in betting shops across the country, are one of the most addictive forms of gambling and enable people to bet £100 every 20 seconds.

"We welcome the Government's promise to look at measures which include players being able to pre-set limits on time and money per gambling session before they start. Any measures that remind players of how quickly they are losing money could help reduce problem gambling.

"Although Eric Pickles has announced that his department will consult on providing greater powers for local communities, we believe that a new planning category is necessary to ensure betting shops are no longer counted alongside financial services such as banks.

"We also call from more powers to reduce clustering of betting shops in high streets, further research into FOBT machines, including their density, location and social impact, and more government-funded help to treat people with gambling additions."

Local Government Association licensing spokesman Tony Page said: " Communities and councils have consistently called for tougher powers to address problems caused by the proliferation of betting shops and FOBTs so we are pleased the Government has listened to our concerns and is taking action.

"We need to understand the detail of how these proposals will work in practice and when they will take effect, but this could be a significant step in the right direction.

"Councils are not anti-bookies, and understand that betting shops can be an important part of local communities that create jobs for local people.

"However, we know how concerned people are by clusters of betting shops taking over their local high street, and there are also fears that people losing money through FOBTs are turning to payday lenders and loan sharks to pay off debts or fund their gambling.

"Betting industry firms like William Hill and BetFred have come out in support of tougher powers for councils and we will use our new Betting Commission to work with the betting shops to consider these new proposals to make sure they are workable. The betting industry needs to respect government's intentions and the concerns of local residents, and respond appropriately."

Betting company Ladbrokes said the announcement was the "latest in a series of measures which will impact the betting industry, hit shop profitability and threaten jobs".

It added that further shop closures remained inevitable.

The company said: "Ladbrokes is fully committed to operating to the highest standards in social responsibility and we note today's announcement from Government for the industry to do more to promote responsible gambling and protect the vulnerable.

"We intend to play a full role in the consultation process but now call upon the Government to give the industry a period of stability to allow us to deliver a service to our customers, invest in our business and minimise the impact on our employees."

The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) said today's announcement would restrict growth in the sector, and meant hundreds of shops and thousands of jobs were now at risk.

ABB chief executive Dirk Vennix said: "The proposed changes to the way customers are able to stake more than £50 will impose extra costs on the industry whilst there is no evidence to show that restricting B2 stakes (a maximum of £100) will do anything to minimise problem gambling.

"Limiting access to one product just means the vast majority of responsible gamblers will be inconvenienced and problem gamblers will gamble on other products.

"We also want to work constructively with the Government and the Gambling Commission to keep problem gambling at the record low levels because we share the same objective - that one problem gambler is one too many. That's why we want to work with all parties to build the best possible harm prevention framework.

"The industry's new Code of Conduct for Player Protection has already had a significant impact with breaks in play, increased customer interaction and more self-exclusions.

"We look forward to seeing the results of the independent research into problem gambling because regulatory decisions have to be based on empirical evidence. We will await the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice consultation, and hope this is based on a proper regulatory impact assessment."

Shadow sports minister Clive Efford said: " After months of dithering by David Cameron, it is disappointing today's proposals appear not to have been properly thought through.

"The Government's new £50 limit for FOBTs is a sham. Only 7% of plays on FOBTs are above £50 so this will have little impact and players will still be able to stake up to £100 on a single spin by seeking permission from betting shop staff.

"For more than two years Labour has been calling for local authorities to be given powers to deal with betting shop clustering and to reduce the number of FOBTs where local people demand action. The government is performing only a partial u-turn on planning powers but is doing nothing for those local authorities that already have problems.

"Whilst the Prime Minister is now accepting there is a problem, the Chancellor is busy making a £90 million tax grab on FOBT profits, making Cameron and Osborne the biggest FOBT addicts of all."

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