Betting Shops on the high street - Copyright IO8 Photography / REX

Christian groups welcome new betting shop powers for councils

Wed 30 Apr 2014
By Jan Kolasinski

Churches and Christian groups have welcomed government efforts to halt the proliferation of more betting shops in towns and cities across the UK by giving more powers to local authorities.

The coalition has also announced separate plans to introduce new player protection mechanisms for fixed odds betting terminals that are offered inside betting shops.

Currently, a betting shop is classified in the same category as a bank or estate agent, and can open without special permission. 

In future gambling firms who want to open up new betting shops on the high street may now find they are stopped from doing so under new plans to give local authorities more control over the make-up of their high streets.

Bookies will have to submit a planning application and local councils will be able to refuse applications and stop new betting shops opening in their area.

The changes come after long-running campaigns by both the Methodist Church and the Salvation Army, which acted as a voice for local communities up and down the country who had expressed their concerns about the clustering of betting shops on some high streets.

Methodist Church spokesperson Anna Drew told Premier's News Hour why she's hopeful the changes will have a positive impact on gamblers and communities.

The coalition has said they hope the changes will give local communities a voice in deciding whether they want another shop opening and support a broader package of "common sense" measures to enhance and rejuvenate high streets.

Planning Minister Nick Boles said: "This Government is taking action to support healthy and vibrant local high streets. 

This is part of a wider set of measures designed to get empty and redundant buildings back into productive use and make it easier for valued town centre businesses like shops, banks and cafes to open new premises, while giving councils greater powers to tackle the harm to local amenity caused by a concentration of particular uses."

Meanwhile, the coalition has also outlined plans to improve protections for players on fixed-odds betting terminals, including making those who want to bet more than £50 in one play pay over the counter, meaning they have to interact with staff.
Betting shop customers can currently lose up to £300 a minute on these machines.
DCMS Minister Helen Grant has said she wants to make sure the industry is "putting player protection and social responsibility" at the heart of their businesses.

Gareth Wallace, spokesman for The Salvation Army, said in response to the Minister Helen Grant's announcement on fixed odds betting machines: 

"Today's announcement of a voluntary ceiling of £50 for fixed odds betting machines is welcome but we believe a radical cut to no more than £10 per stake is necessary to stop problem gamblers from losing life-altering amounts of money.  The proposal for account-based or over-the-counter betting could be beneficial because this enables breaks in play.  

"Fixed odds betting terminals, which are popping up in betting shops across the country, are one of the most addictive forms of gambling and enable people to bet £100 every 20 seconds. 
"We welcome the government's promise to look at measures which include players being able to pre-set limits on time and money per gambling session before they start. Any measures that remind players of how quickly they are losing money could help reduce problem gambling.     
Labour has accused the government of not having "properly thought through" the proposals, describing them as "disappointing", saying more should be done to give areas that already have "too many" betting shops more powers to have them removed.

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