'Ladbrokes have told me that they target working class areas because betting is a working class activity.' (From Harrow Times)
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Cllr Phillip O'Dell calls for betting shops to be more responsible
A senior councillor has called on the Government to limit the spread of betting shops, amid concerns about their effect on vulnerable people.
Cllr Phillip O’Dell, portfolio holder for environment and community safety at Harrow Borough Council, is concerned by the amount of money spent by working class people in betting shops and their link to anti-social behaviour.
He and other campaigners have written to planning minister Nick Boles to ask the Government to put betting shops in a different category to normal shops, so planning permission for a change of use is needed to open one.
Earlier this month the Campaign for Fairer Gambling released figures showing more than £263million has been poured into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in Harrow over the last year.
FOBTs are betting machines at which it is possible for a user to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds.
The campaign estimates the total wagered at the machines in West Harrow between April 2011 and March 2012 was £149,669,025, while the amount for the same period in East Harrow was £113,841,695.
Cllr O’Dell said: “I think betting shops need to be more responsible with the machines because they affect the more vulnerable people in society.
“Ladbrokes have told me that they target working class areas because betting is a working class activity.
“So it's people with the least amount of money that are the ones spending the most.”
According to Cllr O’Dell there used to be laws preventing bookmakers opening within a certain distance of another, but the law has since been relaxed.
Betting shops currently do not need planning permission to open, making it very difficult for the council to stop them appearing in the high street.
Cllr O'Dell cited Ladbrokes' bid to open a betting shop in Pinner Road, which he said was difficult to refuse even if residents objected.
He said: “There needs to be tougher regulation and licensing which is why we have written to the planning minister Nick Boles asking him for a separate planning class for betting shops.”
There is a dispersal order in place at the betting shops in Harrow and Wealdstone after reports that youths loiter both outside and inside betting shops, harassing customers, dealing drugs and getting drunk.
Cllr O’Dell said: “In the past year there were 54 calls from betting shops to the police.
“I think there is a link between betting shops and anti-social behaviour - it is very hard to prove but I think there is."