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Tough stand by Tower Hamlets Council to stop betting shops opening near schools

PUBLISHED: 07:00 05 November 2019

Betting shop licensing policy review by Tower Hamlets Council. Picture:  John Cooper

Betting shop licensing policy review by Tower Hamlets Council. Picture: John Cooper

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Tough regulations stopping betting shops opening up in neighbourhoods with high numbers of children have been readopted by Tower Hamlets Council's cabinet.

Gaming fixed odds terminals reduced to £2 stake. Picture: Wm Hill'sGaming fixed odds terminals reduced to £2 stake. Picture: Wm Hill's

It follows a change in the law earlier this year reducing maximum £100 stakes on fixed odds betting terminals to £2 after a campaign backed by the council in the face of stiff opposition from the gaming industry.

The council is now set to amend its roll-over three-year policy to include the new legislation following last Wednesday's cabinet vote.

The change has hit jobs in the gaming industry with one betting shop chain, William Hill, announcing it is closing 10 branches in the East End.

"I don't normally support businesses retrenching," Mayor John Biggs told his cabinet. "But new rules on slot machines have removed the scourge from neighbourhood which is good.

Mayor John Biggs... Mayor John Biggs... "New rules on slot machines have removed the scourge from neighbourhoods." Picture: Mike Brooke

"Yet I worry about unlicensed gambling down back alleys or in premises without signs, which can be alongside money-lending activities that prey on poor families."

The council has to review its policy on gaming premises every three years to comply with the law and avoid legal challenges when licence applications are made.

Its current policy restricts premises opening near schools, in deprived neighbourhoods where they can have "an adverse impact in areas with high numbers of families and children". It also states gaming products should not appear to be aimed at youngsters.

Cllr David Edgar, cabinet member for the environment, said: "Our objectives are to prevent gambling being a source of crime and disorder and to protect children and vulnerable people being harassed, harmed or exploited by gambling.

Cllr David Edgar... Cllr David Edgar... "Our objectives are to prevent gambling being a source of crime and disorder and to protect children being harassed, harmed or exploited." Picture: Mike Brooke

"It's possible that betting shops and amusement arcades are places where children are exposed, so we hope we get co-operation from betting shops."

The authority takes location into account when licences are considered, with applications examined to make sure premises are not close to schools or family neighbourhoods.

The town hall has renewed 80 licences to betting shops and arcades. No new licences have been issued since 2014 except for Paddy Power in Roman Road. This had been objected to by the community, a report to the cabinet states, but had to be issued after legal advice.

The council held a public consultation in 2015.

William Hill's closing 10 betting shops in the East End. Picture:  John CooperWilliam Hill's closing 10 betting shops in the East End. Picture: John Cooper

But the wrangle with the gaming industry carried on for another 18 months until the government gave in to local authority pressure to stop the proliferation of betting shops in the high street, largely blamed as "a source of crime and disorder and exploitation".

The betting industry claimed at the time that the issue had become "a political football which politicians seem happy to kick around".

William Hill warned that 900 high street betting shops could become loss-making with inevitable redundancies. Now 10 betting shops in the East End alone were to close.

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