MSPs: Councils ‘powerless’ to curb spread of betting shops

MSPs are calling for councils to have more powers to curb the spread of betting shops and high-stake gambling machines.

A Holyrood committee pointed to the highly addictive nature of Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), which are dubbed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ as they allow bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds.

The Local Government and Regeneration Committee said that the betting industry is trying to “maximise revenue” from communities that are most likely to use FOBTs, leading to clusters of bookmakers.

Powerless

Kevin Stewart MSP, Convenor of the committee, said that local authorities are powerless to stop betting shops because they can move into properties that are already in the ‘financial, professional and other services’ class of use.

He called for retail betting shops to be placed in a distinct planning class.

Stewart made the call in a letter to the Chairman of the Review of the Scottish Planning System.

Concerns

The committee raised concerns after gathering evidence during an inquiry into FOBTs, ahead of Scotland receiving new powers to deal with them under the forthcoming Scotland Act.

The committee has also encouraged Scotland’s 32 licensing boards to write to the Review of the Scottish Planning System about the issue.

A Scottish Government spokesman said it “shares concerns around the impact of problem gambling in Scotland”.

Pressure

He said the Government will “continue to press for effective legislation”.

Earlier this year, a study by the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) showed that a code of conduct forced on the gambling industry after pressure from campaigners is not helping gamblers to spend less time and money on the machines.

The Association of British Bookmakers introduced the code, which includes voluntary spending limits and better training for staff to spot problem gamblers, in March 2014.

Rejected

The RGT report discovered that of the 3.9 million FOBT sessions considered, fewer than 1,400 made use of a voluntary limit.

A call to lower the maximum stake on the machines from £100 to £2 was rejected by the UK Government in July.

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