The number of betting shops on Britain's high
streets is on the verge of a dramatic expansion following a relaxation in
licensing rules as part of the Gambling Act, which came into force in
The smaller betting
chains have begun submitting applications for hundreds of high street licences
now that magistrates can no longer block new outlets from opening. Touch-screen
roulette and blackjack machines - dubbed "crack cocaine" for problem gamblers -
have also transformed the profitability of the shops, with each terminal
earning about £25,000 a year in profit.
The new act has swept
away restrictions which allowed magistrates to reject an application if demand
was already met by existing betting shops. In September licensing passed to
local authorities, with the act prescribing limited grounds on which permission
can be refused.
Fred Done, owner
of BetFred, which plans to open at least 80 shops this year, said: "The changes
in legislation have obviously made it easier for us to open shops without much
opposition, as bookmakers already established in areas used to object and claim
there was not enough demand for another bookmaker in a particular area."
BetterBet, a London chain with 25 outlets, said it planned to open about 175
The growth in betting outlets is fiercely opposed by action
groups concerned about the impact on communities. In the London borough of
Haringey, activist Peter Lorimer is fighting applications for two new betting
shops on a 300-metre strip of high street which already has five outlets. "More
betting shops are the last thing we need in this area," he said. "There are a
lot of vulnerable people around here on low incomes or benefits. Why can't we
have bookshops rather than bookies?"
The Gambling Commission said there
were currently about 8,800 betting shops in Britain. According to the
commission's figures, about £91.5bn was spent by Britons on gambling in
2006, the last year for which figures are available. It said that about 68% of
the population gambled, although the figures include sales of National Lottery
tickets. Addiction levels between 1999 and 2007, however, have remained static
at 0.5% of the population, about 250,000 people. But it revealed that one in
nine people who played touch-screen roulette were classified as addictive or
problem gamblers, the strongest link in any form of gambling.
British Medical Association has called for tighter controls on slot-machine
gambling because of its effect on younger people in particular.