Council Leader Supports Campaign Against High Stakes Gambling Machines

Ravi Govindia backs cross party campaign

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Council leader Ravi Govindia has signalled his support for a cross party campaign that aims to curb the spread of high stakes gambling machines in London’s high streets.

Cllr Govindia has offered his backing to an amendment to the Government’s Sustainable Communities Act which would make it more difficult to install fixed odd betting terminals (FOBTs) – more commonly known as 'one armed bandits' - in betting shops.

These high stakes fruit machines have been described as “the crack cocaine of gambling” because they allow people to wager - and potentially lose – hundreds of pounds a minute.

Cllr Govindia has said he is supporting an amendment put forward to the act sponsored by the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, which urges ministers to give local authorities “effective tools to strategically improve town centres, incentivise growth and protect residents from the disruption caused by FOBT machines”.

Wandsworth previously supported similar calls from Hackney Council to reduce the impact of these high speed/high stakes machines.

In his letter to Cllr Govindia asking for support Sir Robin said: “Residents are extremely concerned about the proliferation of high street betting outlets due to the impact on the vitality of high streets and the increased anti-social behaviour associated with clustering. As you will be aware, the Gambling Act 2005 removed licensing control from local government leaving councils hamstrung. Four FOBTs are permitted per betting outlet and it is in response to this cap that multiple premises have been opened.”

Ministers have also signalled that they will consider imposing new rules on betting companies if the industry fails to adequately protect the public from these machines.

Cllr Govindia said: “This cross party and non-partisan attempt to limit the spread of these wretched machines and reduce the harmful impact they can have on vulnerable members of our community has my full support.

“This is an issue that would benefit from local authorities and ministers working closely together to ensure that effective measures can be taken to curb the spread of these cash grabbing machines.

“If we are tackle this issue then the Government really needs to look at amending parts of the 2005 Gambling Act. It was this legislation that opened the floodgates that allowed the spread of betting and gambling that is now so commonplace.

“It was this change in the law that made it much harder for local authorities to oppose the spread of betting shops and FOBT’s and which also allowed gambling companies to begin advertising so widely on TV screens.

“Here in Wandsworth betting shop numbers have remained reasonably static for the past seven years or so. In 2008 there were 55 betting shops that were open across the borough and at the moment there are 52. But it is the spread of these fixed odd terminals that is causing the most concern.

“This amendment to the Sustainable Communities Act would certainly help limit their spread – but a more effective response would be to change parts of the 2005 legislation so that we could outlaw these high stakes machines altogether.”

The council is also looking to draw up plans using powers it has under planning laws to try to limit the spread of betting shops. The same powers are also being used to try and protect popular local pubs from disappearing and to prevent fast food restaurants opening up close to schools.

November 28, 2014