Thousands oppose new Palmers Green gambling venue

A Merkur Slots venue in North Finchley
A Merkur Slots venue in North Finchley (credit Google)

Residents express concerns over latest gambling venue in Green Lanes, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

A fifth gambling venue set to open in Palmers Green will be a “magnet” for vulnerable people and lead to anti-social behaviour, campaigners have warned.

A group called Game Over for Merkur is battling a decision by Enfield Council to allow Cashino to open a Merkur Slots gaming centre in Green Lanes.

There are already four betting shops in the area – and campaigners say residents were not aware of the plans for the latest gambling venue because they had been staying at home during the pandemic lockdown.

A petition calling on the council to revoke the premises licence has gained more than 4,000 signatures – but the cabinet member for licensing said there was little the local authority could do to oppose the application.

Shirley Rose, a Palmers Green resident and spokesperson for Game Over for Merkur, claimed the gaming centre would be an “absolute disaster” for the area.

“We’re concerned it will increase antisocial behaviour and pose a considerable risk to children and vulnerable adults,” she said.

“With unemployment and youth disengagement at the highest level it has been for years, it is irresponsible for Enfield Council to give its approval to a 24-hour gaming centre. This is likely to profit at the expense of those in society who least can afford it.

“We see this as degeneration rather than regeneration. If we have a high street of gambling shops, it is going to deter interesting shops from wanting to open.”

The council held a consultation on the premises licence for Merkur Slots in December last year.

But Shirley claims that because this was a time of “severe restrictions on people’s ability to get about” very few people in the area knew about the application at the time it was out for consultation – otherwise many would have objected.

She said there were only small notices placed on the door of the premises and in the Enfield Independent newspaper – which residents had trouble getting hold of at the time – and ward councillors did not inform them of the application.

“High street businesses were closed,” Shirley explained. “Lots of people were working from home, and then we went into total lockdown during that period. We are calling on Enfield Council to reopen the licensing application.”

All three Palmers Green councillors say they are opposed to the gaming centre, but Tim Leaver said there was “no mechanism for ward councillors to notify residents of licensing applications”.

George Savva, cabinet member for licensing and regulatory services, said council leader Nesil Caliskan had written to residents to express her “vigorous opposition to the opening of these venues in the borough”.

Cllr Savva added: “As we look to rebuild the local economy following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we want our high streets to be vibrant, safe and welcoming places. We do not believe gambling premises fit into this vision.

“However, it is extremely difficult for a local authority to object to an application such as this. If it meets the conditions set out in law, it must be granted. The advertising and consultation were undertaken correctly and in compliance with the Gambling Act, and no allowances were made by the government regarding extending or amplifying consultations during a national lockdown.

“Residents or ward councillors can request a review of the licence by the licensing committee. A request should be based on how the premises does not meet the licensing objectives and/or the principles in section 153 of the Gambling Act.

“In the meantime, Enfield Council is frustrated with its inability to prevent the development of clusters of gambling premises and betting shops. Cllr Caliskan and I will continue to lobby the government for a change in the law so we can protect our local communities and high streets.”

Merkur Slots said in a statement that adult gaming centres “have never had the fixed odds betting terminals, which have caused so many awful problems and led to the sector having such a bad name”.

They added: “Our focus is fun, and we do everything to ensure our customers gamble responsibly and within easily manageable limits.

“We’re confident our expansion programme will serve to change people’s opinions and demonstrate that an adult gaming centre on your local high street is a good thing for everyone.

“A key part of this will be the various roles we’ll play within the local communities where we operate – employer, passionate supporter of high street regeneration and growth, and advocate and sponsor of community groups and initiatives.

“Merkur ensured its application addressed issues raised by the Planning Inspector throughout the process.”