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Support for law change over gambling

POWER TO STOP BOOKMAKERS

Council bosses are backing a campaign to give them more power to stop betting shops opening in the district. The authority is supporting calls for a change in the law that allows gambling shops to breeze through the planning process. Politicians are already under pressure to exert statutory control over fixed-odds betting machines – dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling” by critics. In the Canterbury district alone, gamblers poured £13,6099,768 into such machines last year, according to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. Now 63 local authorities, including Canterbury’s, are lobbying the government for increased powers to refuse planning permission to new betting shops in the first place. Cllr John Gilbey, leader of Canterbury City Council, said:

“We are aware of the impact the number of betting shops can have on the local community, particularly as a result of their proliferation in poorer areas. We recognise that where an application has been received for either an amusement arcade or betting shop there has often been significant local concern about the proposals.”

Under current law, betting shops are classed as financial services for planning purposes. This puts them in the same class as accountancy firms, estate agents and other businesses. Where planning consent is required, local authorities must “aim to permit” new financial services in line with government policy, therefore giving new bookies an easy ride. But by taking on the premises of another business from within the same class, new betting shops can operate with no fresh planning permission at all. Campaign groups are now call ing on the government to designate a specific planning class for bookmakers. The change would impose a separate planning consent requirement for new betting shops — therefore allowing local authorities a greater opportunity to refuse applications. Cllr Gilbey said:

“It would clearly be of benefit for betting shops to be taken out of the financial and professional use class and made a “sui generis” use, thereby allowing greater planning control of their location and numbers.”

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling welcomed the proposal, but said it did not go far enough. Spokesman Matt Zarb-Cousin said:

“While putting betting shops back in their own use class is a step in the right direction, at best it will stem the problem of fixed-odds betting terminals rather than solve it. Councils should not have to aim to permit new betting shops and they should not be subjected to legal challenges when they object.”

‘I racked up £20k debts’

Fixed odds gambling machines can swallow up to £300 a minute. Earlier this year we reported how one gambler in the Canterbury district racked up debts of £20,000 using the machines. Michael Goldfinch squandered up to £1,000-a-time while playing on the fixed-odds betting terminals, which allow people to wager £100 every 20 seconds. At the height of his addiction, he was visiting bookmakers at least five times a week, spending all his wages and maxing out credit cards to fund his habit. The 46-year-old said:

“I started about eight or nine years ago and would only play if there was a free promotion. Somehow, I ended up £20,000 in debt. I’d go into the William Hill on Herne Bay High Street with £1,000 on the Saturday, then another £1,000 on the Sunday. I only came out once having won £1,000.

Herne Bay Gazette, April 10th 2014

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