Blackpool South’s MP Scott Benton voiced his support for high street betting shops and met with an industry bigwig after leading the charge to revive efforts to build a ‘super casino’ in the resort.
The Tory politician posed at William Hill in South Shore with Brigid Simmonds, chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council, who said “having a flutter is clearly an important part of the social fabric of Blackpool”, which is one of the most deprived towns in the country.
Mr Benton, himself the chairman of a cross-party Parliamentary group on betting and gaming, was filmed saying bookies are “a key driving force to get people out on their high streets, spending money in shops and local business as well”.
Gambling puts cash into the Government’s coffers, he said, which he claimed funds “vital public services”.
But his comments were condemned by Terry Kilgariff, a former gambling addict from Wesham who now battles to help others as chairman of Gambling Harms North West Alliance.
He said: “I think it’s inappropriate because anyone who uses these shops on a regular basis is more susceptible to getting a problem with it. Gambling is meant to be a recreational activity.
“There are 400,000 problem gamblers in Britain but it doesn’t just affect those people. It also affects the other 4.3 million around those who are suffering. One in 15 people know someone who has a gambling problem.
“People don’t show the signs and symptoms like they would with a drug or alcohol addiction. If you’re an alcoholic, you could go and spend around £70 in the pub in a day - but a gambling addict could potentially ruin their family’s lives for the next 10 years.”
Mr Kilgariff - who previously worked as a manager of a betting shop - also confirmed that in his experience, both as a manager and a former addict, bookies accept bets in large sums of money without challenging punters.
Last April, many betting shops and gambling sites were forced to remove their adverts on TV and radio.
The move came after Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris told Parliament the pandemic had been “absolutely disastrous” for people suffering from gambling addiction.
The Betting and Gaming Council followed up by announcing that all advertising from their members had been removed from broadcast media for at least six weeks.
But Mr Benton said it was down to each individual how they chose to spend their money, and “the majority of people enjoy having a gamble”.
“We live in a free and liberal society. The vast majority of people enjoy having a gamble and 99.5 per cent of people do so safely,” he said.
“The rates of problem gamblers in the UK are falling and have been for a number of years, and the betting industry, whether it be online or visiting betting shops, already has a range of measures in place.
“Putting money on a bet is no different from going to a pub to enjoy a few drinks, or other activities including retail and leisure. We shouldn’t look at it any differently.
“Hundreds of people locally are employed by betting shops, and they are a crucial part of the high street.”
Earlier this year, it emerged that the Labour-run Blackpool Council wanted to cut the number of bookies in the town because of the “temptation places like this puts in front of people”.
The Blackpool and Fylde Green Party said in a tweeted response to Mr Benton’s video: “You’re even more out of touch than could have been imagined, Scott.
“Do you have any idea about the place you represent? The issues we face? The reality of our lives? Promoting gambling in our deprived town verges on the criminal. You are a disgrace as an MP and a human being.”
As revealed yesterday, Mr Benton has urged culture secretary John Whittingdale to grant the town a licence for a super casino, which would have had 1,250 unlimited jackpot fruit machines – a battle originally lost in 2007 despite being backed by local councillors, MPs and The Gazette – which saw a petition containing 11,000 signatures handed in to Downing Street.
Gordon Marsden, who was Blackpool South’s Labour MP at the time, spoke of his disappointment after Manchester was picked to host the super casino in a scheme later scrapped altogether.
Mr Marsden, who lost his seat to Mr Benton in 2019, said times had changed, and a balance between regenerating the town and protecting the vulnerable would need to be found.