Saturday, January 15, 2011

No more betting shops - update

We wrote to the Mayor and councillors about the latest license application from Betfred and got the following replies:

On behalf of the Mayor & Cabinet Office, Andy Williams wrote:

"Steve has asked me to let you know that In July 2009, Lewisham put forward 3 requests, under the Sustainable Communities Act, to amend the Gambling Act to give local authorities more freedom to limit the number of betting shops in an area. However, currently the Council's Licensing Authority has no power under legislation to refuse an application on the grounds that an area is becoming over congested with betting shops.

Each application is assessed on its own merits and can only be refused if objections by local people or organisations highlight a direct contravention of licensing objectives of the Gambling Act.

That said, objections have been received in relation to this application and it will be determined by the Council's licensing committee soon, possibly in February."

We suggested in response that the Mayor might like to make his position more clearly visible in a public statement, since many people mistakenly seem to think the Licensing Committee must be taking backhanders. They also believe the council has abandoned the Deptford community (and Catford, where there are 10 bookies around the high street), despite the large-scale civil amenities being built (which has led to limited and expensive parking). We are pleased to hear that the Mayor made representations in 2009, but what did he do in 2010?

Our original email to him wasn't just about numbers of betting shops either. We had to point out again that there were more than enough grounds under the Licensing Objectives relating to how gambling is linked to crime for an application from Betfred to be turned down.

But an email response from a member of the Licensing Team, Cllr Stella Jeffreys (Lab, Lewisham Central) clarified their position (without addressing crime):

"Thank you for your email.  I do appreciate your concern and as a member of the Licensing Committee I am aware of the public feeling on the proliferation of betting shops in particular areas.

As you note the law does not allow us to take the number of betting premises in an area into account, unlike alcohol licences in a designated cumulative impact area, and the logic of the Act is presumably that new premises will only open if there is a commercial benefit to the operators.  

In the past Lewisham has tried to stand up to prevent the opening of new betting shops but has incurred high costs when the companies have appealed.  At this time of massive budget reductions for Lewisham Council it would not be prudent for us to repeat that.

The only way forward is for Parliament to change the law.  I am sure that you have already lobbied Joan Ruddock the MP for Deptford on this matter, but as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are now in power, can I suggest that you also contact the relevant minister, John Penrose MP, Minister for Tourism and Heritage in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport."

We are grateful to Stella for her response. She manages to say that the borough cannot afford to turn down applications where the applicant can afford to appeal.

UPDATE: To be fair, it appears Lewisham Council was the lead authority on a proposal shortlisted by the Local Government Association and submitted to central government as a suggested amendment to the Sustainable Communities Act. It proposed that councils should have the power to cap the number of bookmakers in a certain area...see the Deptford Dame's post from March 2010.

Unfortunately, the implications of that are that if an armed robbery took place inside and outside Coral tomorrow it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference to Licensing's response to Betfred's application to open up across the road. They won't turn them down since they know they'd appeal and Lewisham can't or don't want to afford to fight the appeal.

And that Minister for Tourism & Heritage Stella mentioned would be the same John Penrose MP who would like to see the 2005 Gambling Act weakened even further to allow ordinary (adult only) slot machines take higher minimum stakes (from £1 to £2) so that amusement arcades in his constituency of Weston-super-Mare can do better business. Those B3 one-armed-bandits are just not as exciting as the FOBs (Fixed Odd Betting machines) that are only allowed to be installed in betting shops where you can touch the screen every 20 seconds in the vain hope of winning £500. Says Penrose "I would like to ensure these businesses remain competitive in these tough economic times." (Hansard) 

The 2005 Gambling Act debate

Apart from Penrose's initial preferences, in Parliament, the main issues being debated around the Act concern the Horseracing Betting Levy (which has helped fund British horse racing since the 1960s) and The Tote (the state-owned legal betting service founded in 1928 which also helps fund British horse racing, now a state-run casino as it keeps abreast of bookmaking trends, although it remains independent). Areas of debate on the Levy include Offshore Online Betting Businesses that are outside the Levy (Hills and Ladbrokes for instance), Overseas Racing (no Levy), Gross Profits Thresholds (percentage of total profits that can be paid by bookmakers, presently only 10%), Betting Exchanges (that operate outside bookmakers and is unlevied) and Media Rights (which bookmakers resent paying)...

The racing community claims that a series of loopholes exploited by bookmakers have resulted in the size of the levy on bookmakers' profits falling by more than a third in the past two years (£75m instead of £130m-£150m). Bookmakers argue that racing is no longer their main concern, though if you ever glance inside one, you'll know that it's the main event on all the screens. Obviously the shop isn't the only medium for betting and racing isn't the only thing we can bet on, but it can be argued that the demand for racing hasn't decreased (in fact attendance at race meetings has grown), just the opportunity for betting on everything else has increased. See Racing United for more on the Levy.

The Tote is a national asset that the government has been thinking of selling off to the highest bidder for some time (like Waterways and Woodlands), particularly since Gordon Brown as chancellor announced the intention in 2001. It has 517 high street betting shops and the monopoly to run "pool betting" (oh god, don't ask) online and at 60 racecourses in the UK. Allegedly, in the year to April 2010 it made profits of £13.3m on revenues of £2.8bn, and contributed £11.3m to the horse racing industry.

The Jockey Club (which regulates horse racing, owns and operates 13 racecourse etc) opposes the sale of the Tote, whilst Betfred was prepared to pay up to £250m in December 2010 (it was worth £400m in 2007), up against Paddy Power, Sportech (headed by Ian Penrose, shurely no relation) etc. Coral and Ladbrokes already have partnerships with the Tote. They are ruled out of bidding on "competition grounds". (Meanwhile, like they give a shit, Paddy Power was reported in December 2010 as buying Australian company Sportsbet for £86.2m).

I reckon the Tote is worth more than £250m because of its 'pool betting' monopoly but don't ask me why. Obviously I'm of a type that is averse to sell-offs anyway (such as waterways and woodlands, not to mention those already sold off), especially when some bastard gets it cheap. Then again, I've only seen toffs with plenty of money who own racehorses, why should they be subsidised for their jockeys, vets, trainers and prize money?

Both the Levy and the Tote are long-running sagas for the government. Penrose has been reported as considering various options other than a direct sell of the Tote, but is excluded from the Levy debate because his wife is a member of the Jockey Club. Guess who's in charge? Jeremy Hunt, who would probably, like the bookmakers, prefer the levy scrapped, and has possibly already lined up a mate to buy the Tote, if his recent reputation is anything to go by.

If, like me, you have never followed racing or the betting industry, you'll be confused. Anyone who knows and wants to make the above clearer, please do. But with all these vested interests going on and arguments (some moral) centred around tradition & heritage versus 'a modern gambling experience', and state ownership and subsidy versus pure market forces, it is hardly surprising the Labour government made such an enormous cock-up of the 2005 Gambling Act...

During that time, you probably couldn't move in Westminster for betting industry lobbyists. No doubt it is similar now, only more competitive...A box at the races for you and your banking mates, free booze and direct line to tax free exchange betting, anyone?
Whatever, it's beyond ironic that New Labour's complete and utter fumbling of the 2005 Gambling Act has led to New Labour's flagship boroughs suffering the most.

Down on the street

North of the river, in Hackney alone there are nearly 70 betting shops, three times the national average. There were 2,095 gambling licenses in operation in 33 boroughs in 2009, up from 1,721 in 2003 (Gambling Commission and Home Office).

Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe describes betting shops as "sucking the money out of people's pockets".

In September 2010 he joined Ken Livingstone and Tottenham MP David Lammy in a press call at a new Paddy Power in Mare Street, where there are already 9 bookies. Livingstone said:

"We are calling on the government to give local communities a greater say over their high streets...there should be a separate planning class for betting shops to give councils and residents the power to determine their location and overall numbers."

Lammy said, "It is surely wrong that (councils) cannot deny an application for a betting shop on the basis of the number already open in the area."

The Hackney News reported that the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) has said it would be co-operating with a review announced by Haringey council into the proliferation of high-street betting shops, but denied that new legislation was needed, since under the current Act, local councils can refuse licenses where they can show 'good and sustainable reasons'.

Local campaigners in Deptford (apolitical local residents horrified by the developments on their doorsteps) who went to the trouble of objecting for "good and sustainable reasons" (including planning objections under conservation rules that seem to hold even less weight), to Paddy Power taking over both the Deptford Arms and the John Evelyn pubs within a 4 month period know this is simply not true.

The Local Government Association argues that lax licensing of gambling premises in deprived areas simply increases poverty. "We are a bit concerned...they're taking advantage of people's desperations and concerns at such a difficult time." (Hackney News) Also see the LGA website.

Hackney's MP Diane Abbott has long been campaigning about the clustering of betting shops. She has talked about it on the telly, and before she got drawn into the Labour leadership campaign, as a back bencher she was putting in EDMs (Early Day Motions) to Parliament in an attempt to change the 2005 Gambling Act. 

Time for Lewisham to Speak Out

In a response to our email to Diane Abbott about what is happening in Deptford, her office furnished us with the response she received from John Penrose in October 2010. In the letter, Penrose says there are powers which local authorities can implement to make it harder for certain shops to open under Town & Country Planning legislation. "There are wider issues at play that should be dealt with through the Local Development Framework and Town Centre Management strategies, rather than being addressed by gambling specific legislation."

Unless there is something mysteriously masonic in John Penrose's words that councillors and bureaucrats in boroughs all over the country have missed to the detriment of their communities (that'll be Tory wards that aren't blighted), it needs to be pointed out to John Penrose MP that when a local authority turns down licensing or planning applications to ambitious new betting chains it is inevitable that said betting chains, Paddy Power, Betfred etc, WON'T BE HAPPY until they have BANKRUPTED every local authority in the UK...
in order to maintain and achieve even greater hold over their competitors in our high streets, whilst all along singing merrily that they have only provided us with what we wanted all along. 

Penrose went on to tell Diane Abbott that he's not convinced the law needs changing because he hasn't heard similar complaints from around the country – whilst his government cuts local authority funding to ribbons. Whatever your opinions on how your council makes its cuts, you will probably agree you'd rather keep a library open than fund a hopeless legal case against a wealthy offshore betting chain.

Penrose probably doesn't know either that bookmakers are the second most likely target for armed robbery (after shops and before post offices and banks), and doesn't have to walk down a street where punters hang outside betting shops all day drinking, drug dealing, stealing from the adjacent shops and shoppers, and begging. 

John Penrose's response to Diane Abbott is a WAKE UP call to our powers-that-be in Lewisham (including the Borough Chief of Police) to speak up in support of Deptford shopkeepers, street traders and residents, and join our friends north of the river in a nationwide campaign to change the law.


At the time of writing, we have had no response to our emails to Joan Ruddock. We visited her surgery at The Albany yesterday afternoon and picked up ticket number 26. There were already 15 people waiting, and ticket number 16 was called at 5.45pm, 15 minutes before her session was to close. We sincerely hope she is able to help those people, some of whom had been waiting since 3pm....

However, we hope Deptford can count on her support in the future. She's always been a jolly good Chair.

Read how to object here. (Objections now closed)

Further update: Some background reading on the local situation...


  1. Excellent post thanks Sue, you have clearly put a lot of time and effort into this analysis of the industry. Looking forward to hearing the response from Joan....

  2. Thanks, Dame...not much work on at the moment...
    Without trying particularly hard, we've also managed to get over a hundred signatures, almost fifty of which are from the shopkeepers and street traders. It won't stop it going ahead, but shows that the feeling on the high street is unanimously against.

  3. Our household's objection has gone direct. The least we can hope is that it provokes our local MP to pay attention.

  4. The form is no longer with the opticians!
    Completely inhuman the way these places are being allowed to open.
    Is therea mailing list we can be on to catch the next one early. If we can't stop this one, let's try to stop No.11 opening.
    I'm incensed by this.

  5. Sorry Sybar, we stopped the petition so we could send it to Licensing in time for their deadline tomorrow. The hearing will be sometime in February.

    As far as finding out about the next one, it's a matter of keeping your eyes open for a notice in a window, since Licensing don't publish applications online. It may be worth enquiring why, since Planning do.

    We could've continued the petition, but in the past it has got other campaigners nowhere. Instead I've jumped the gun and started an e-petition to lobby Parliament for a change in the 2005 Gambling Act to give councils more powers. See top right corner of this blog.

  6. Actually Sybar, I think you might have a point. Lewisham need persuading to speak out. We could have quite a big list of signatories by the time of the hearing for Betfred. Will keep you posted here and will think about how to get a mailing list going...

  7. Now two petitions up on this blog, Sybar. Will try to make hard copy petition against Betfred available to sign in high street on Saturday...possibly at Deptford Project, Albany, Kim's, High Street Flowers, Sight least one of those!

  8. Hi Sue
    Are you the Sue I bumped into in the Dog & Bell tonight? I've posted about the response the Council received from DCLG to our proposals under the Sustainable Communities Act over on
    Green Ladywell
    and the response can be found online here. Good luck with your campaign!

  9. Sue,
    Just signed the Petition above. Thanks for that.
    If this one can't be won a keen eye should be kept by all to nip the next one in the bud.
    Also, is there a way to get notifications from this site?

  10. Hi Sybar, good to hear from you. There's a Subscribe button bottom right column. Don't know how easy it is to use! Might be a nightmare...
    Glad you signed. Petition now 684 total. Will be adding petition to objection for License hearing on Wednesday, but Betfred 1000-1 to win, alas.

  11. Actually, I'm showing my lack of betting expertise! Betfred are likely to win, therefore the 1000-1 odds are for the people of Deptford to win!

  12. I must ask, what sort of criminal activity goes on, what are the shops 'fronts' for?

  13. Dave, unfortunately you are not part of the "Information Sharing Protocol" so we cannot answer your question. The statement to which you refer is also an exaggeration of the truth and cannot be substantiated, not to mention an unfortunate and unintentional slur on the majority of traders in the high street. It has therefore been removed.

  14. God you would think that a betting shop was a crime scene, whats the matter with you people

  15. I note Cllr Stella Jeffrey's son is the manager of a bookmakers in Kent.