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Planning restrictions on betting shops welcomed in Norfolk, Suffolk and the Fens

PUBLISHED: 17:52 30 April 2014 | UPDATED: 17:52 30 April 2014

MP Simon Wright

MP Simon Wright

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2013

Moves to thwart the explosion of betting shops on Norfolk, Suffolk and Fenland high streets have been welcomed as a step forward in the fight to tackle life destroying addictions to games known as the “crack cocaine” of gambling.

As part of a government review, bookies will be forced to apply for planning permission and local authorities given powers to stop new betting shops opening in their areas.

The current system classes a betting shop in the same category as a bank or estate agent, meaning they can open without the need for a planning application when a premises becomes vacant.

The Government said it was also looking at controls on gambling advertising, including requiring betting firms to show how they were complying with social responsibility codes when they applied for a license, ensuring that controls on gambling advertising provided enough protection and working with the industry to explore initiatives to help prevent under-age access to gambling.

And it has set out plans to improve protections for players on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), including making those who want to bet more than £50 in one play to pay over the counter, meaning that they have to interact with staff.

But the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) said the announcement would restrict growth in the sector, and meant hundreds of shops and thousands of jobs were now at risk.

Its chief executive Dirk Vennix said: “The proposed changes to the way customers are able to stake more than £50 will impose extra costs on the industry whilst there is no evidence to show that restricting B2 stakes (a maximum of £100) will do anything to minimise problem gambling.

“Limiting access to one product just means the vast majority of responsible gamblers will be inconvenienced and problem gamblers will gamble on other products.

“We also want to work constructively with the Government and the Gambling Commission to keep problem gambling at the record low levels because we share the same objective - that one problem gambler is one too many. That’s why we want to work with all parties to build the best possible harm prevention framework.”

Norwich South MP Simon Wright, who has long highlighted the dangers of FOBT after his constituent David Armstrong resorted to banning himself from every betting shop in East Anglia after losing ??? said: “Sophisticated gaming machines have caused real harm to vulnerable people through addictions, while the explosion of betting shops has damaged the diversity of community high streets. It’s clear that more action is needed to protect people and town centres.”

He said the measures were a “welcome step forward”, but said more needed to be done by limiting further the stakes and prizes offered by gaming machines.

“I want to see the maximum available stake reduced to a much lower level than the current £100 to reduce harm to those at risk of addiction,” he added.
Ron Turrell, GamCare counsellor at Phoenix + Norcas gambling service, which has offices in Norwich and Ipswich, said that the measures were good in principle.

But said that more could be done including introducing better technology to exclude addicts, with the current system just relying on people bringing a passport.

He said that he was seeing a lot more younger gambling addicts who had started by betting on football, but had gone on to become addicted to FOBTs.

“Year on year the number of people coming in is increasing”, he added.

“It can be absolutely devastating. I had a lady in recently, she had lost in excess of £29,000 on fruit machines. She had the capacity to play on credit cards and when she was no longer able to, she tried to commit suicide.”

“I also work in Norwich Prison working with people who have ended up in prison because of their gambling addiction.”

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