£4.5million lost on fixed-odds betting machines: Kicking South Tyneside’s £13,000-a-day gambling habit

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Council bosses in South Tyneside are taking a punt at beating a £4.5million gambling addiction in the borough.

New rules aimed at protecting the most vulnerable from becoming victims of gambling are set to be brought in at a meeting of the council’s decision-making cabinet this week.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has figures which show about £4.5million – £13,000 a day – is lost annually by people in the borough playing fixed-odds gambling machines.

The key change planned is that, from April, applicants for new licences, or existing licensees wanting to change their licence, will need to submit a local risk assessment.

This will include taking into account the proximity of their premises to schools and places for vulnerable people who could be harmed or exploited by gambling.

Coun Tracey Dixon, lead member for area management and community safety at South Tyneside Council, said: “We recognise that gambling can be a simple pleasure that many people enjoy in moderation but we also know that it can become addictive and lead people into all sorts of problems.

“With that in mind, we have a responsibility to make sure our vulnerable people are not put at risk and, by working with local businesses to implement these guidelines, we hope we can encourage people wishing to gamble to do so responsibly.

“A campaign that South Tyneside was part of last year was successful in introducing planning changes to re-categorise the planning classification of betting shops. They were in a use class with financial institutions such as banks and estate agents but now have their own class of use.”

She added: “We took part in the campaign because we could see a proliferation of betting shops, which we felt could have a detrimental impact on our town centres.

“Hopefully, both these new measures will go some way towards keeping our town centres safe and pleasant for all members of the community.”

Bookmakers William Hill, which has a number of branches in the borough, has welcomed the proposed changes.

A spokesman said: “Betting shops are enjoyed by millions of people, the vast majority of whom bet what they can afford and enjoy their experience.

“While betting shops are already subject to Gambling Commission regulation, William Hill welcomes any measure that enables us to work with the local authority and helps them to understand the social responsibility measures we take.

“Betting shop operators operate ‘Think 21’ to keep under 18s out of betting shops, offer gaming machine customers the option of setting limits and conduct responsible gambling interactions where there is reason to believe customers may be exhibiting problem gambling behaviours.

“William Hill is also a member of the voluntary industry standards group Senet which conducts responsible gambling advertising campaigns and has a code of conduct that has removed gaming machine advertising from betting shop windows.”

The cabinet meeting will be held at Jarrow Town Hall on Wednesday at 4pm.

‘A step in the right direction’

Gambling campaigners say the council’s move is a step in the right direction – but not enough to tackle South Tyneside’s issue.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which protects children and other vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling, believes more still needs to be done.

Members say that the new principles, which will go before cabinet next week, aren’t going to stop gambling addicts.

Adrian Parkinson, a spokesman for the campaign, said: “While we welcome what South Tyneside Council is doing and it is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t really get to the crux of the problem.

“It’s all very well completing a risk assessment, and identifying suitable venues, but the main issue is the fixed odds gambling machines.

“ It’s those which are causing the problems.

“Many councils across the country realise that their hands are tied when it comes to dealing with these machines .

“As a result, when it comes to amending licensing regulations they’re specifically making a reference, calling on the Government to take action.”