Tuesday, 12 March 2013

How bookies exploit the poor and is the council negligent?

When I was a student I had a Saturday job in a bookies.  Taking the bets, on horses or dogs, and paying out was surprisingly labour -intensive.  Odds changed all the times and the bets varied hugely.

Fast forward and many bookies are less "studying the odds" and more standing in front of machines.

Last week I met one of the organisers of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.  They want to crack down on so called Fixed odds betting terminals.  These are machines at which it's literally possible to lose hundreds of pounds in minutes.  There is no thought or judgement involved and the speed makes them addictive.

And the problem is that traditional bookies are becoming more and more dominated by these machines.

I remember my grandparents who liked a bet and who would study the odds for ages before walking down the road  or phoning up to place their limited bets.  They would have never stood mindlessly before a machine shoving in their last few quid.

Yet these machines are now causing real problems in deprived communities up and down the country.

And the industry insider I met at the weekend says bookies have a strategy now of targeting deprived neighourhoods with new shops and these machines.

If you don't believe me, think about Liverpool neighbourhoods.  Would you find a row of bookies in Childwall?  But look at parts of Garston and there is more than one in a short bit of high street.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not one of those who thinks all gambling is wrong.  But these machines are addictive and harmful in a way that is nothing to do with the fun of a bet.

So why do I say the Council is negligent?

Well Liverpool City Council will certainly tell you it wants to protect people in deprived neighbourhoods.  And yet planning permission for new bookies which clearly will be dominated by these machines is going through without challenge.

Today I discovered that an application for a new bookies in Speke had gone through with no committee discussion at all.  Planning officers can approve things without Councillors'say so and this has happened in this case.  Yet a careful reading of the info, including proposed staff numbers, shows that this is likely to be one more premises which rakes in cash from these addictive machines.

If the City Council really cares about cases like this it will tell planning officers that all bookies applications need at the very least to come to committee.  That doesn't necessarily mean they'll be challenged (todays planning committe didn't appear to want to challenge anything much) but it would at least shine a light on the problem and force betting companies to justify their behaviour.

Surely vulnerable people in poor neighbourhoods deserve a bit more consideration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a mystery shopper I spend a lot of time in bookies in the North West - spending money I will have reimbursed not my own - and can back up your comments. While I spend the £3 to £5 I am told I need to spend I see people at the next machine pump £30 - £40 in and as you would imagine normally lose it all.

When I am in the more deprived areas - and here I don't just mean in Liverpool - it is true there are three or four bookies in a small area yet the more affluent will have just the one.

Staff all seem to know a lot of the customers so I imagine they put a lot of money over the counter.