Councillors call for change to gambling law

Anger at council’s inability to halt rise of adult gaming centres, reports James Cracknell

Slot machines
Three adult gaming centres are now operating in Enfield borough (credit Hello I’m Nik via Unsplash)

Councillors from all parties in Enfield have called on the government to grant them more control over local gambling policies.

A review of gambling premises in the borough shows that the decline in betting shops has been matched by a rise in bingo halls and adult gaming centres, while highlighting that “there is a noticeable correlation” between areas with a high concentration of gambling premises and “areas of worst deprivation” in the east of the borough.

Under the Gambling Act 2005, local authorities have few powers to reject applications for new gambling licences because they are required to implement an “aim to permit” policy and only raise concerns around crime and the protection of young people. The only exception is casinos, which councils remain free to prohibit.

As part of its three-yearly review of its gambling policy, an Enfield Council report showed that all eight betting shops that had closed in the borough since January 2019 had been replaced with either adult gaming centres or bingo halls, but noted that it was “very difficult” to reject these applications.

In a debate at last week’s full council meeting, councillors from all sides of the chamber lamented their inability to halt the rise of adult gaming centres because of the restrictions imposed by the Gambling Act.

Doug Taylor, the former Labour leader of the council who now chairs the council’s licensing committee, told the meeting that a recent high-profile campaign against a new adult gaming centre in Palmers Green had highlighted public concern over the issue, while putting the council in a difficult position.

Cllr Taylor said: “Often expectations in the borough are higher than the council can deliver.

“There are many things we might want to say about gambling, but it must be consistent with the 2005 act.

“Wider issues can be discussed politically, but this policy is not the vehicle for that. If we had a blank sheet of paper we would look at consumer protection and consumer need.

“Currently we are constrained, but when applications come to us [the licensing committee] for approval, they will be scrutinised.”

Conservative councillor Mike Rye pointed out that gambling companies tend to focus their business in the poorest areas and said: “It is often those who can least afford it that put themselves in that position.

“We have consistently said that a casino in Enfield is not appropriate. But the powers we have are actually very limited to deal with gambling activity. The number of local objections has increased significantly and residents have expressed themselves clearly.”

Derek Levy, an independent councillor with the Community First group, said: “It is with frustration that we are being forced to accept this report, because the problem should be led on the fact that the Gambling Act is a shocking piece of legislation which prevents us from tackling the social issues – we could have put all sorts of things in this report but the Gambling Act states we can’t do that.”

Labour councillor Ergin Erbil, who represents Edmonton Green, said there were 20 betting shops within two kilometres of Edmonton Green Station. Attacking gambling companies, he said: “They prey on the working class and ethnic minority communities – it leads to more hardship.

“There is a mountain to climb to tackle this problem and we all need to work together on it. Campaign groups in the borough have our full support.”

The council’s report noted that 0.5% of the UK population are said to be “problematic gamblers” while 3.5% are “adversely affected by its consequences”. Although local data are unavailable, the council’s public health team is now working with King’s College London to pilot a gambling identification questionnaire which “aims to identify if a person has gambling issues and then getting them referred to the right support”.