The on course action rightly focuses on Royal Ascot this week, but yesterday saw the conclusion of a piece of off-course action that will have long term impacts after most of the winners of the 30 races at Ascot have been forgotten.
The debate about the increasing number of betting shops on Britain’s high streets took another turn when a judge upheld an appeal by Paddy Power and said there were no grounds for Newham Council to reject their application for a licence. The ruling means that Paddy Power will be able to open up a second shop barely 300 yards from the one they already have there.
Why would they want another outlet? Well, it’s the way bookmakers get round the law that limits the number of fixed odds betting terminals (fobts) in each branch to four. If bookmakers are coining enough through four machines to make it worth their while picking up another set of business rates and staffing costs, that’s one heck of a lot of money pouring into the machines.
The decision led one local councillor speaking on the BBC PM programme to describe bookmakers as “leeches that are peddling the crack cocaine of gambling.” A curious analogy, but I can see what he means. But the decision to turn down the licence was not made on the basis of gambling, gaming or addiction, but on the grounds that the machines led to an increase in crime, particularly violent crime.
Newham Council had garnered the support of local MP Stephen Timms, who had told the court that gambling chains’ (a pejorative phrase in its own right) “responsibility towards their customers seems to have been entirely lost with their proliferation in the communities where they are expanding so rapidly.” The judge was having none of that unless there was empirical evidence to support Timms’ assertion. There wasn’t. Indeed, District Judge Paul Goldspring went as far as concluding that the granting of the licence would be reasonably consistent with the licensing objective of preventing crime and disorder.
Whilst West Ham fans may have another outlet to call into on their way to the ground before too long, the decision in no way leaves the door wide open for further expansion in other parts of the country. The judge’s written ruling said he would not create precedent, and that his findings were not binding on any other court.
Paddy Power look to have got their way in Newham, although councillor Ian Corbett, who has lead responsibility for environmental issues in the Borough, did not rule out the possibility of judicial review. He went on to accuse the Gambling Commission of “refusing to act like a regulator” and claimed they needed to take action when the law prevented councils from doping so.
Corbett said after the hearing, “We’ve been left high and dry. They’ve basically said the laws can’t do anything about it and that betting offices can carry on in their own sweet way. I will be writing to the Gambling Commission to ask them to start taking some action. They are getting paid to do a job – a job they are obviously not doing.”
That’s unlikely to lead to any change. But if the findings of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme are right, Paddy Power will soon put in plenty more licence applications. Dispatches calculated that they make around £41m profit a year from fobts, whilst William Hill makes ten times that amount. Paddy has some catching up to do.