Two hundred years after the first recognisable betting shops appeared in London, fixed odds betting (FOB) terminals are now the biggest source of gambling losses on the high street and London’s boroughs should have more powers to restrict them, according to a report by London Councils.
The report by London Councils – which represents London’s 33 local authorities – states that FOB terminals, which allow up to £100 to be wagered every 20 seconds, can seriously harm individuals, communities and local economies. Nearly £459 million was lost and more than 1.5 billion bets – worth £13 billion – were placed on London’s 7,000-plus terminals in 2014 (1).
London Councils’ report outlines how further changes to the law would help reduce problem gambling – the effects of which can include financial crisis, family breakdown and harm to physical and mental health. It also recommends other measures to support the capital’s high streets, including promoting the value of markets and supporting outdoor arts and culture.
FOB terminals can also harm local economies due to ‘clustering’ of betting shops, where shops are opening to bypass restrictions on the number of FOB terminals in each premises. This reduces retail diversity, potentially increases anti-social behaviour and can mean less money is spent with local businesses.
Cllr Claire Kober, London Councils’ Executive member for infrastructure and regeneration, said: “We welcome the steps which have been taken so far, but the impacts of problem betting on the gamblers, their families and local areas are real and severe.
“We believe if boroughs were given greater powers over the licensing of betting shops they would be better equipped to reduce the harm caused and continue the work that has already been done.”
Problem gambling treatment charity the Gordon Moody Association estimates that for every problem gambler 10 other people are also directly affected.
Elaine Smethurst, the charity’s Managing Director, said: “Problem gambling has a devastating impact which often leads to family breakdown, ill health, unemployment and criminality.
“Measures need to be in place to protect vulnerable people from harm and to support those who develop problems through excessive gambling.
“As a charity providing support services nationally and internationally we are very concerned about the harm caused to individuals, their families and the communities in which they live.”
The report makes the case for councils to gain powers to reject applications for new betting shops where a cluster already exists through the use of cumulative impact tests. Also the law should be updated to allow boroughs to consider the anti-social behaviour and public health concerns linked to problem gambling when deciding on licensing applications.
- Campaign for Fairer Gambling (http://www.stoptheFOBTS.org)
- The report’s recommendations are grouped under four key objectives for the future growth of London’s high streets.
- Encourage a more focussed, curated and diverse town centre offer, which provides a positive consumer experience and healthy options for customers.
- Create characterful workspace that is designed to a specification and price to meet the needs of 21st Century SMEs in a World City economy.
- Reinforce the character and distinctiveness of town centres within London’s network.
- Foster a vibrant cultural, civic and well-being offer within its town centres as the heart of community life.
- Research by Landman Economics suggest that for every £1 billion lost on FOBTs as many as 20,000 jobs are lost in the wider consumer economy – while only 7,000 are created in the betting industry (http://fairergambling.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/The-Economic-Impact-of-Fixed-Odds-Betting-Terminals.pdf).
- The report is titled ‘Building on success – London’s town centres’.