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Betting Licences Bill: tackling gambling-related harm on the High Street

The Bishop of St Albans’ Private Member’s ‘Betting Licenses Bill’  received a First Reading in the House of Lords on Monday, 13th June. The Bill seeks to correct an anomaly which limits Local Authorities’ powers in relation to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). The Bishop, the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, describes this anomaly as “illogical” and an “obstacle to Local Authorities tackling gambling-related harm on our High Streets.”

Commenting on his reasons for tabling the Bill, Dr Smith said: “The current limitations on the licensing conditions are an illogical anomaly, given that FOBTs are widely acknowledged as posing the greatest threat to meeting the licensing objectives. Not only have FOBTs been identified by local authorities as being at the root of gambling related harm and addiction on the high street, they are an increasing factor in criminal offences such as assault, robbery and money laundering. My Private Members Bill would empower licensing authorities to better tackle gambling-related harm on their high streets.”

Dr Smith’s Bill has won support from the Local Government Association. The Bill will boost the power of local licensing authorities to “prevent gambling from being a source of crime or disorder” and “protect children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling”, which are existing licensing objectives. Currently, limiting the number of FOBTs permitted under a betting premises licence is not among the range of conditions that licensing authorities can impose in order to ensure that the licensing objectives are maintained. The Bill would correct this anomaly.

Cllr Tony Page, Licensing spokesman at the Local Government Association (LGA), welcomed the Bill:

“The LGA strongly supports the proposals in this bill, which reflects long-standing concerns by councils up and down the country who are frustrated by the lack of powers they have to curb the number of high stakes FOBTs and betting shops on our high streets.

“Councils are not anti-gambling, but the latest, independent research clearly shows that rates of problem gambling are higher among those who live near clusters of bookmakers. It is essential that councils have the authority to factor this in to their decisions and are able to limit the number of FOBTs, which already number more than 34,000 in UK betting shops.

“A new cumulative impact test – which the LGA has previously urged government to introduce – would give councils grounds to limit new shops and FOBTs in areas already saturated with them, in a way that they are powerless to do at the moment.”

Dr Smith has previously raised concerns in the House of Lords that FOBTs are clustering in areas where the risk of gambling related harm is higher. Research from Landman Economics has found that there are more than twice as many FOBTs per 1,000 people in areas of highest deprivation than there are in areas of lowest deprivation, while more recent data shows that 61% of Paddy Power betting shops are located in the 40 UK authorities with the highest percentage minority-ethnic populations.

Dr Smith continued:

“I have no opposition to safe and legal betting on British High Streets, but I am seriously concerned by the increasing number of people whose lives have been destroyed by Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Ultimately this is a matter of social justice, and it is right that local decision makers have the powers they require to protect the vulnerable and prevent crime. I am grateful to those who have raised the matter before and in drawing attention to the issue of FOBTs again I offer this alternative way to address the harm that they can cause in areas of deprivation.”

Newham Council is one such council in an area of high deprivation which is associated with a significant risk of gambling addiction and harm. Newham has expressed significant concern about the clustering of FOBTs in such vulnerable areas. In 2013, Newham had 18 betting shops on a single high street, meaning that up to 72 FOBTs were permitted. In 2014, Newham Council led a coalition of 93 local authorities in calling for the maximum stake on FOBTs to be reduced to £2.

The Bill answers the Bishop’s and the Local Government Association’s concerns by seeking to empower licensing authorities in three ways:

1. Limiting the number of FOBTs permitted on a betting premises, under the terms of a premises licence.

2. Allowing licensing authorities to review the number of FOBTs permitted under existing licences and reduce that number.

3. Allowing licensing authorities to take the cumulative impact of existing betting premises into account when making such determinations, rather than assessing each licence application in isolation.

This approach is in keeping with current licensing principle that licensing conditions could not be applied without due reason.

Recently published research commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Trust, which studied the betting patterns of betting shop loyalty card holders, further demonstrates the need for local authorities to be given powers such as those proposed in Dr Smith’s Bill. The research found that gamblers who lived close to clusters of betting shops were significantly more likely to be exhibit problem gambling, while also identifying ethnic minorities and the unemployed as groups at particular risk of gambling related harm.

ENDS

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