Read Clive’s article on the debate around B2 machines and the proliferation of betting shops Published in BetView Magazine November 2011:
Politicians from across the political spectrum are picking up concerns expressed by their constituents about the concentration of betting shops in certain areas driven by the profits derived from B2 Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
My colleagues David Lammy, Joan Ruddock and Diane Abbott have spoken out on this issue. The Local Government Association which represents councillors across all political parties in its evidence to the select committee called for local communities to be given greater powers over planning decisions relating to betting shops. More recently, Harriet Harman, in her report to the Mary Portas review of the future of our high streets, has expressed her alarm over the number of betting shops that are opening in close proximity to one another in the most deprived parts of her constituency.
Those who do not accept what Harriet and others are saying claim that there is no evidence to associate FOBTs in betting shops with problem gambling among people on low personal incomes living in deprived communities. The Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010 indicates that while overall participation in gambling is lower among those with low personal incomes they are the highest users of FOBTs machines. The survey shows that: 7% among the lowest income quintile gamble on FOBTs but only 4% among the upper quintiles; young single males are the most frequent players; the machines are the third most popular form of gambling for problem gamblers; and they are the sixth most popular form of gambling for those who spend high amounts of time and money.
Statistics from the survey on horse-racing betting raise questions about the criteria used to determine where new shops should be located. Betting on horse racing is 12% among the lowest income quintile but this rises to 20% of the highest two quintiles. If betting on horse racing is the incentive for siting betting shops then based on these figures more shops should be opening in higher income areas than at present.
We know that on average over 40 percent of betting-shop profits come from FOBTs. Given the statistics unearthed in the Gambling Prevalence Survey it is not unreasonable to conclude that in betting shops located in deprived areas, the profit from FOBTs will exceed this average. Taken together with the proliferation of betting shops within or close to deprived communities these figures clearly demonstrate that there is something taking place that we need to examine very closely. It is difficult not to conclude that it is FOBTs that are the driving factor when siting new betting shops.
I recall when we were debating the Gambling 2005 Act that MPs were concerned about the implications of having FOBTs on our high streets. We were determined to avoid what happened in Australia when changes to gambling laws opened the doors to mini casinos called Pokies containing banks of gambling machines on their high streets. MPs from all sides were determined that this should not happen on our high streets.
Some claim that the inspiration for raising this issue comes from a general dislike for betting shops – nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes MPs are right to raise an issue however controversial, based on local knowledge and the concerns expressed by their constituents. It is the duty of MPs to ensure that these matters are given proper consideration. There can be no doubting that there is concern from a wide variety of sources about betting shops colonising high streets and the associated proliferation of FOBTs. At the time the bill was passed we were told that this would be reviewed. Six years have now passed and we are still waiting. As Harriet says in her report to Mary Portas, ‘this review is overdue.’ I look forward to working with the industry to find a way forward that addresses the concerns that local communities are expressing to their local politicians and secures the future of our betting shops.