Town hall bosses in Blackpool today called for more powers and tougher regulation on betting shops, after figures revealed a huge number are located in the town’s poorest areas.
According to official council figures there are 42 betting shops in Blackpool, 20 of them in the FY1 postcode area which includes Bloomfield, Talbot and Claremont wards - home to some of Blackpool’s most underprivileged communities.
And it has led to growing concerns about the affect of the number of betting shops on some of the town’s poorest people.
Coun John Jones, who represents Bloomfield ward on Blackpool Council, said: “In the last couple of years there has been a number of betting shops open in Bloomfield ward, for example on Lytham Road, in premises which had closed down.
“I am concerned because these operators do seem to be targeting deprived areas where people are more likely to be short of money and are tempted to go in and see if they can make some money.
“I have checked with our licensing department and currently there are no regulations to enable us to stop these premises being converted into betting shops. I think it is something the Government should be looking at.”
Julie Bascombe, chairman of the Revoe Area Forum, said: “If people want to go into betting shops, I’m not against that. But it is wrong that so many are concentrated in the most deprived areas of Blackpool.
“They should be spread out around the town more. We need decent shops in the FY1 area, rather than betting shops opening up every time an empty premises becomes available.”
Dave Blacker, chairman of the Gateway Area Forum which covers Talbot, Claremont and Brunswick wards, said: “I agree the spread of betting shops is something we need to keep an eye on because people need to know their limits, and it certainly isn’t a way out of poverty.”
Talbot Road, Lytham Road, Dickson Road, Coronation Street, Church Street, Foxhall Road, Central Drive, Market Street, Nelson Road, Ansdell Road, Abingdon Street, Bank Hey Street, and Queen Street in the FY1 area all have betting shops on them, with three on Lytham Road and Dickson Road, and two on Talbot Road, Church Street and Central Drive.
There are also concerns Blackpool has a high number of bookies compared to neighbouring towns.
Preston by comparison has 28 betting shops. In South Shore there are three betting shops on Waterloo Road and one on Bond Street. Waterloo councillor Tony Lee said: “I think there are too many in Blackpool and they are creating temptation for people living in some of our poorest areas.
“As a council I think we should be writing to the relevant Government minister asking for more powers.”
Concerns have also been raised recently about the spread of fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops, which reportedly allow people to bet as much as £100 in 20 seconds.
According to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, there are 157 of the machines in Blackpool. It claims a total of £168m is gambled on them a year.
Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for public protection, said she was concerned about the impact gambling had on some people’s lives.
She added: “It is a much wider issue than just the number of shops in town.
“You only have to turn on the TV or open a magazine to see the incredible volume of advertising that is taking place to try to suck money from people’s pockets online, by phone and in shops. At a time where people are struggling financially here in Blackpool that is a very dangerous combination.
“We are an innovative and proactive licensing authority in Blackpool, as demonstrated by our saturation policy which limits the number of alcohol licensed premises in the town centre, and we would consider any steps that will help to protect the public.”
Betting bosses deny preying on poor
The gambling industry has hit back at the claims and denied it targets deprived areas.
Dirk Vennix, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), said: “The gambling industry does not target deprived areas. It never has. It never will.
“We don’t want problem gamblers in our shops. We want responsible gamblers who are in control. That is why we are doing all we can to ensure levels of problem gambling in the UK remain low.
“We absolutely do not choose where to put our shops based on the type of area.
“Like any other retailer, we base our decisions on factors such as population density, footfall, competitor presence and rental costs.
“ABB research clearly shows that 84 per cent of all betting shops are located in commercial centres and are in the same locations as well known high street brands such as Greggs, Subway and Nisa Local.
“Only four per cent of all retail outlets are betting shops and their distribution exactly matches the population density per square mile.”
The ABB says its research shows machines in the least deprived areas make four times more profit than those in the most deprived areas.
It says independent information from the Local Data Company, published this month, shows Blackpool has 11 betting shops in the town centre which equates to 1.2 per cent of the total shops which is lower than the national average of 1.7 per cent.
‘If someone gambles they would go and find a shop wherever it was’
Reporter ROB DEVEY took a stroll along Lytham Road in Blackpool to find out what betting shop customers and residents thought about the number of bookies in their neighbourhood – and whether they thought Blackpool Council should have powers to stop them opening.
Tony Merien, 73, of Highfield Road, who had just been in the Coral shop on Lytham Road, said: “I know my limits, but if someone gambles they would go and find a shop wherever it is.
“So it wouldn’t make any difference whether the council had the power to stop them opening in a particular area.”
David Jex, 27, had just been in William Hill on the corner of Lytham Road and Waterloo Road with his sister Gemma, 30, where he put a £2 bet on a greyhound.
“It doesn’t matter where the shops are, people will go to them if they want to, wherever the council allow them,” said David, of St Heliers Road.
“These shops will always set up somewhere because it’s all about money at the end of the day.”
Alison Jones, 26, from Hilton Avenue, disagreed.
“We don’t need three or four of these shops around here and I think the council should have the power to stop them opening,” she said.
“Gambling is a problem.
“My stepson will go into these shops and spend up to £150 in one go.
“I do think if the shops weren’t so near to where people live it would make them less likely to go in.”
Peter Johnson, 47, of Waterloo Road, said: “I’m not a gambler but I think that if these weren’t betting shops they would be empty.
“Probably the best way to deal with the problem would be if they didn’t allow people to gamble after they had spent £20.”
Ron Smith, 72, from Shaw Road, said: “Betting shops ought to be in places where people have more money. Take South Shore and look at the people here – most of them are on benefits but these shops are taking money off them.
“These companies are big concerns and whatever you say to them they won’t change their mind about where they want to be so I do think the council ought to have more of a say.”
One betting shop employee, who did not want to give his name, said: “I’ve worked in the betting industry for a long time and it is getting a lot of bad publicity at the moment.
“In some cases I think that is justified but a lot of the onus is being put on the people who work in the shops when in fact I think the vast majority of us would be in favour of restricting betting machines.
“We do try to help people and encourage them to take breaks but at the end of the day nobody twists their arm to play them.
“We sometimes get a lot of stick if someone gets angry because they have lost.
“The council used to have the power to control where shops opened until the Gambling Act came in a few years ago and I can understand why they want to get that power back. But you have to remember as well that these shops have only moved here because other businesses have failed and the units became empty – that is why they tend to be in run-down areas.
“If these betting shops closed, people would lose their jobs.”