Friday, January 7, 2011

Talking to the bookmakers

Tottenham MP David Lammy is campaigning for a change in the 2005 Gambling Act that would give local authorities more power to overturn applications from bookmakers.

Lammy says: "As the Bill went through Parliament, attention was focused on super-casinos and internet gambling. What no one spotted were the loopholes making it easier for betting shops to saturate high streets and town centres.

"The response of the industry will be that this is all about personal choice. But I don't want to ban betting or betting shops. We all enjoy a flutter on the Grand National or a bet on football. What is in question is whether communities can take ownership of their own high streets. People should be able to make collective choices about how their areas look and feel.

"So first, gambling establishments should no longer be allowed to apply for space under the same pretences as any other financial service. Secondly, local authorities must be able to control the number and influence their location. Councils can already decide that there are too many bars and pubs in a particular area: why shouldn't the same be true of betting shops?"

(Extract from Evening Standard article, February 2010 – more here)

Lammy called a Westminster debate in November 2010, and is also campaigning from his own website.

William Hill contacted Lammy in February 2010, disputing many of the claims of his campaign ("the facts do not support the perception") and asking to be regulated "on the basis of fact; not erroneous perception"...Lammy responded to their arguments as follows:

William Hill: "Far from undermining sustainable communities there is clear evidence that betting shops add to the vibrancy of an area and increase footfall for other retailers...Betting shops also provide flexible local employment and career development for local people and the idea that the availability of betting shops drains the incomes of poor families is scotched by the data from the ONS Food & Expenditure Survey which shows that in London, only 0.4% of income is spent on gambling (per cent of total spend) of any kind."

David Lammy: "...this general figure demonstrates absolutely nothing about what those in the poorest areas spend on gambling...the industry deliberately targets areas of poverty and deprivation – how else do you explain why deprived Newham has over three times as many gambling establishments as wealthy Richmond?...Demand for gambling in a William Hill is satisfied both in affluent Muswell Hill and less affluent Archway, yet the former has just one of your shops, whilst the other has four. Do you believe that the people of Archway would somehow be unable to find William Hill if there were only one or two of your establishments?"

William Hill: "Betting shops are over 18 only establishments and it is generally at the insistence of the police and licensing officers that shop frontages are being opened to public view. William Hill and other major operators have made great strides in ensuring that betting shop staff operate a 'think 21' policy. Therefore we do not believe that betting premises present a major risk to children or young persons. Merely having to walk past a betting shop does not mean that a child is in close proximity to gambling."

David Lammy: "Given that last year a gambling commission investigation uncovered that 98% of bookmakers, including your own outlets, allowed under-age gambling, I have serious reservations when you say you have made 'great strides' in operating a 'think 21' policy....I would also contend that 'merely having to walk past a betting shop does not mean a child is in close proximity to gambling'. All advertisements, including those emblazoned on the windows of your outlets, are intended to have an effect on the public...When those signs tell £10 of my money can become £450...I have no doubt that it plays on the minds of vulnerable people that are desperate to break free from the shackles of poverty."

William Hill: "...there are processes in place such as self exclusion and customer interaction to protect the vulnerable. William Hill has just in fact received an award...for its significant financial contribution to the research, education and treatment of problem gambling."

David Lammy: "...pardon me if I choose not to offer my congratulations when your betting shops clearly make a net contribution to the problem by saturating certain neighbourhoods."

In his campaign Lammy posits that "The concentration of so much gambling in one area can change the character of a neighbourhood and send all the wrong messages to young people.

"In Haringey alone, in the past two years, there have been almost 750 public-order offences related to gambling premises — more than one a day. It cannot be right, either, that police time is wasted on such avoidable, petty crime."

William Hill: "We were disappointed to see that you had described betting shops as a 'haven' for anti-social behaviour.  Betting shops operate in a highly regulated environment. One cannot drink alcohol or smoke in a betting shop and our staff enforce these regulations rigorously...we rely on the police or community safety teams to help our staff uphold the law...(regarding groups smoking and drinking outside betting premises) we do see this as a matter for local police who are empowered to move on those who are causing a public nuisance...This really is the law of unintended consequences."

David Lammy: "Yes, police officers and community safety teams are there to aid your staff, but only as a last resort. When your clients exhibit anti-social behaviour as a consequence of the service that you offer...then you, as the owner of the commercial premise, ought to take responsibility for that and employ your own security staff..."

William Hill: "We are aware of the existence of illegal gambling your constituency. Licensed and regulated premises are also much more preferable to the proliferation of illegal gambling...Reducing betting shop coverage increases the risk of illegal gambling in pubs, clubs and other establishments..."

David Lammy: " were to close your William Hill at 440 High Road Tottenham, its clientele would have no trouble walking 200m down the road to the next William Hill at 375 High Road....The current coverage of betting shops is so dense, and the choice on offer so vast, that it would have no noticeable impact at all on people's access to legal and licensed gambling."

Lammy ends: "I do not oppose the presence of gambling establishments on our high streets. As you helpfully acknowledge, this is not a 'moralist crusade' – it is not about the rights and wrongs of gambling. This is about a balanced and vibrant high street, and residents having the power to achieve that."

(You can download the full correspondence at David's site – but be ready to switch off the loud video that comes on when the site loads).

Anyone with any ideas on how to further the aims of the Tottenham campaign and make it national, please get in touch!

Oh, and this is Tottenham's Betting Map:

View Gambling in Tottenham in a larger map


  1. Personally I don't see the problem. They are better than empty boarded up units. There will probably not be enough business for all of them and they will eventually close if the community does not use them.

  2. Another betting industry comment. Well, actually, matey, they could be pop-up shops. It's supposed to be an arty area, all the new developments are based on this premise, so why not let artists do their thing? You wanker.

  3. Thanks Sue for taking the time to post all this, I have been following the debate north of the river with much interest and applaud David Lammy's efforts (which also underlines the deafening silence from our own MP on the matter...).

  4. So eloquent Sue, with poetry like that I'm happy I am not part of your welcoming artistic community!

    For the record I've actually never stepped in a betting office in my life.

  5. Anonymous, how can the Deptford artistic community be welcoming to views like yours?
    "Boarded up units" as a description shows exactly where you're coming from. Have you been watching a bit too much of The Apprentice and think there's only one way to do business?

    Empty shops are a great opportunity for artists, but you'll not be familiar with the greatest selling point for the developers in this area that isn't to do with gambling. Artists? It sounds lame, I know, but the developers have sold billions of quids worth of property on the back of a lie – that artists are thriving in the area. They are not. But they could be, if empty shop spaces were made available to them.

    If you're not working for the Betting Industry and don't have Google Alerts tuned to your chosen business and favourite subject, you probably should.

  6. Anonymous, you should tell us where you live.

    And why you don't think it's a problem.

    Enormous amounts of public funds are going towards trying to regenerate the town centre to become a nicer place, whilst the betting industry is 'betting' on which betting company is going to achieve dominance in 200metres of footfall...

    ...with complete disregard to the general well being of the community and the existing and historical architecture and the future.

    Your support of these wankers leads me to assume you are one.

  7. PS Anonymous, when did I say the artistic community was 'welcoming'...?

    I can imagine you now, getting paid by the click, defending your employer's concerns...

  8. Sue, I am a resident of Millennium Quay and have been since 2001. I play a keen part in the local community and admittedly do spend more time in Greenwich but I also love Deptford (which is why I read this blog regularly).

    I have posted in the past and when I do you always seem to think I have a hidden agenda (I am a developer, I am a betting office owner!).

    I just have different views to you, and whilst I mean it in a nice way, you just need to appreciate that other people may have an opposing view to you.

    I've supped many a drink in the old train carriage and shop occasionally in the food shops in the environ. I note a new Vietnamese supermarket opened Creek Road end of Deptford High Street - I don't hear people saying we have too many food shops or fast food joints! Maybe you just anti-betting ;-)

    As I said, I think the last time I went into one was as a kid with my dad as he went to put his £1 onto the Grand National. But if people want to use these places then it is not for me to say they should not be allowed. Being part of a community means that you have to allow others to take part in things that they enjoy and just because one does not agree or partake in that activity should not mean that you try to prevent them. Live and let live.

    As i said, Im sure that most will close over time especially with online gambling so the debate will probably die off in the next 12-18 months anyway.


  9. Hi Anonymous, many thanks for revealing a bit more about yourself, and for being forgiving of my rants.

    I wonder though if you read the correspondence between David Lammy and William Hills above, which highlights the lack of a sense of community responsibility the betting industry displays, in that they see antisocial behaviour outside and inside their shops as a result of the 'law of unintended consequences'...

    Also, each shop may have up to four 'one-armed bandits' – category 'B3' slot machines which have prizes of up to £500 for a £1 stake - that are so well designed that punters think they're winning when they're losing...but I guess we should be grateful the Halifax isn't to become an arcade - more popular with women than betting shops.

    I agree there is actually very little diversity in the high street – contrary to its 2006 Yellow Pages award – and the Vietnamese certainly seem to have a hold on the north end (the only pub left is Vietnamese-owned!)...but a predominance of shops selling the same thing, particularly food, is a little less ominous than outlets which actively encourage problem gambling.

    Oh well, enough 'paternalistic handwringing'! Thanks for reading the blog and taking the trouble to comment.

  10. No probs - if I remember next time I'll try to sign off as Anonymous at Millennium Quay to prevent your blood pressure from rising ;-)

    all the best

  11. Just to respond to anon's anticipation that some of the shops will close as a result of online betting; the fact that Deptford has quite high deprivation is one of the reasons that there are so many betting shops here. They are targeting those punters who don't gamble online purely because the majority of these households cannot afford either computers or internet services/phone lines. That's why places like Deptford, Catford, Tottenham etc have a lot of betting shops while Blackheath, Greenwich etc have one or even none.

    As for diversity on the high street, we certainly do have a lot of food shops (everyone needs to eat!) and a lot of barbers. But we also have a sewing machine shop, a haberdasher/hardware shop and a couple of fabric shops, a motor parts shop, a DIY shop, a couple of newsagents, banks, clothes shops, chemists, etc etc. Even the pound shops have different stock to one another if you look carefully. I can buy about 90% of what I need on the high street, and for the remaining 10% it's always good to take a trip outside the 'Ford once in a while.