MSPs call for laws to halt spread of betting shops

MSPs have called for a crackdown on the spiralling number of betting shops on Scotland’s high streets.

A William Hill betting shop. The bookmaker says 40 per cent of its profits come from gaming machines. Picture: Ian Georgeson
A William Hill betting shop. The bookmaker says 40 per cent of its profits come from gaming machines. Picture: Ian Georgeson

There are concerns that councils have no power to stop them opening and their use of controversial fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) – the so called “crack cocaine” of gambling.

The head of Holyrood’s local government committee now wants betting shops to be subject of a stricter planning rules to halt their spread.

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MSP are currently carrying out an inquiry into the use of fixed odds betting terminals amid fears that punters can lose hundreds of pounds on the machines in one session. But they have been shocked by how easy it is for betting shops, which house the terminals, to open.

Committee convenor Kevin Stewart has now written to Crawford Beveridge, the Chair of the Review of the Scottish Planning System expressing concern that local authorities are powerless to prevent betting shops opening new premises – even when they are already prevalent in the area.

“As we began our inquiry into fixed odds betting terminals, it quickly became clear to us there is disquiet about the number of betting shops in communities across Scotland with void properties being replaced with bookmakers,” Mr Stewart said.

“There is a real concern local government is powerless to prevent the increase in the number of betting shops as the betting industry seeks to maximise revenue. We heard about one community in Glasgow where there are three bookmakers in one parade of shops, each of those bookmakers having four fixed-odds betting terminals.

“Today’s letter makes it clear consideration should be given to placing betting shops in a distinct planning class in order that issues – such as over provision – can be taken into account.”

The Committee has also written to Scotland’s 32 licensing boards to encourage them to write to the Review of the Scottish Planning System on this issue.

During evidence taking the committee heard from Councillor Paul Rooney of Glasgow City Council and Councillor John McAlpine, Argyll and Bute Council who stated that there were no current measures to address over provision.

Councillor McAlpine also slammed the impact of the fixed odds betting terminals.

“In my opinion, they are crack cocaine and no longer fun,” he said.

There are now an estimated 800 fixed-odds betting terminals in the 200 bookmakers across Glasgow alone which is more than one in every community in the city. The council has also established that the average bet is £12 every 35 seconds on one of the machines.

Councillor Rooney added: “The truth is that we do not know what impact they are having.

“We know that they are popular and that their use is growing, and we believe that the inquiry is an opportunity for Scotland to lead in having an understanding of that.”

But Andrew Lynam of William Hill said about 40 per cent of 
the firm’s profits comes from gaming machines, while around 60 per cent comes from traditional “over-the-counter products.”

“The idea that gaming machines are particularly addictive is not borne out by the Scottish Government’s own evidence,” he said.