Newham LBC has attacked industry regulators the Gambling Commission for a lack of support, after a court overturned the council’s decision to prevent the opening of a Paddy Power betting shop.
Newham already has more than 80 betting shops, the third highest in London, and rejected giving Paddy Power an operators licence on the grounds it would encourage crime and anti-social behaviour.
However, in what is seen as a test case over the proportion of business generated by gaming machines within bookmakers' premises, Thames Magistrates’ Court has ruled against the council.
‘Ministers fail to understand how the legislation is toothless in dealing with the clustering of betting shops and the proliferation of high stakes gaming machines,’ said Cllr Ian Corbett, Newham’s executive member for environment.
Cllr Corbett said the council was ‘deeply disappointed’ with the judgment and said Newham would study the verdict closely to see whether a judicial review was merited.
‘Taking legal action at a time when our services are under severe pressure is something we have been forced to do because the Gambling Commission refuses to act as a regulator,’ Cllr Corbett added. ‘It is time the regulator did its job.’
He said the case exposed a serious problem in that current laws cannot prevent high street bookmakers deriving increasing revenues from high stakes B2 gaming machines.
Hackney Mayor, Jules Pipe added his voice to the criticism. ‘The legislation gives the bookies too much room to manouveure, and means they can continue to profit at the expense of communities in places like Hackney and Newham,’ Mayor Pipe said.
Mayor Pipe, who last week was re-elected chair of London Councils likened the gambling firms to ‘financial vampires, preying on vulnerable people in areas of high deprivation’.
‘I will continue to press Government to act on this issue. The argument that current powers are sufficient just does not stand up in the face of the evidence,’ Mayor Pipe added.
Last year the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on gambling recommended that local authorities should have the power to allow betting shops to carry more than the current maximum of four B2 machines per shop in a bid to tackle the massing of gambling establishments in single areas.
At the time the Local Government Association dismissed this as a ‘completely illogical’ stance’ because an increase in the number of slot machines in betting shops could not tackle the problem of too many slot machines.
In response, a spokesman for the Gambling Commission said councils already have extensive powers to manage gambling provision so as to keep down crime and protect communities.
‘The local authority licenses premises such as betting shops and the Gambling Commission, the independent national gambling regulator, provides support and advice on gambling to local authorities to help them perform their local role,’ the spokesman said.
According to the spokesman, the regulator’s role is to licence gambling operators and ensure they meet the requirements of their operating licence, which includes keeping crime out of gambling.
‘Local authorities also have powers under planning legislation to manage the face of the high street more generally,’ the spokesman added.