The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) recently issued a statement in response to Newham Council’s court battle with Paddy Power over a betting shop license application, but it’s riddled with flaws.
The statement claims that there is “no evidence that betting shops fail to protect vulnerable people”. But the 2005 Gambling Act objective of prevention of harm to young and vulnerable persons was not even considered in the Newham case, so this is a very misleading comment by the ABB.
The statement also claims that there is “no evidence showing betting shops cause crime or anti-social behavior”. However, the 2005 Gambling Act objective is the prevention of association of crime with gambling. It is the incidence of crime in and around betting shops that is relevant. Betting shops are in the same planning use class as banks and other financial service premises. It is certain that the incidence of premises crime related to betting shops is far higher than premises crime related to banks, estate agents and building societies. But there is no licensing requirement for bank premises to ensure they are not associated with crime. The Newham case did not address this particular licensing objective to an adequate standard.
Further, the ABB statement claims that the notion of “primary activity” does not exist in the Gambling Act and falls outside the remit of the local authority. But if this is true, then it shows a significant failing in the Gambling Act. Betting shops are being granted betting licenses, but the majority of their turnover and net profit is from Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), which are gaming machines. There is no purpose in the Act enabling both betting licenses and gaming licenses but not requiring betting to be the primary activity of the betting licensee. The claim that local authorities have no remit over the “primary activity” means that local authorities’ powers are even more limited than previously perceived. If the only party with authority to determine “primary activity” is the Gambling Commission, this is a disastrous direction for democracy. It gives an unelected quango the power to sit above the law and issue guidelines and interpretations as it sees fit.
Our view is that all three licensing objectives of the 2005 Gambling Act are being breached by FOBTs. Government asserts that local authorities have powers but these are clearly very limited. The Government must reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs, and consider why the Gambling Commission has thus far failed to deliver the objectives set out in the Gambling Act.