Skip to main content

Gambling: Betting Offices

Volume 692: debated on Monday 4 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to place appropriate limits on the number of betting shops, particularly in inner cities.

My Lords, there are a number of new provisions under the Gambling Act 2005 that will effectively regulate the licensing of betting shops. In issuing betting shop licences, all licensing authorities must have regard to the three objectives of the Act, one of which is the protection of children and the vulnerable. The Act provides for new applicants for betting shop licences to make public their intentions. Local people will also have the opportunity to raise concerns about applications with their licensing authority.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full Answer. Does he agree that the situation needs very careful watching? It seems unfair to criticise the bookmakers by implication after they have had such a bad weekend, but the turnover for horse racing and dog racing has fallen considerably and the main contributor to betting shop profits is what are misleadingly called “fixed-odds betting terminals”, known in the trade as FOBTs. They are casino betting machines, and every betting office has four of them—the Government have seen fit to allow them to do that. They are quite separate from all other gambling in casinos, but they are casino machines. What plans are there to monitor the social impact of these machines and the profits they yield in very poor areas, which is mostly where betting shops operate with regular customers?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, who recognises that bookmakers have had a sorry weekend with two derby wins by the same jockey. I must report to the House that the number of betting shops has been in decline in recent years. We do not know whether there has been a very recent increase, for the simple reason that the new licensing system under the Act did not come into operation until 21 May. The Gambling Commission therefore cannot begin its process of both counting and regulating the development of bookmakers and the issues the noble Viscount refers to, but it is charged with exactly that responsibility, which we expect it to fulfil.

My Lords, what is the position on casino machines? There has been a major problem in Australia, particularly on licensed premises selling alcohol, which have a number of these machines. The Government there are trying to limit them, but everyone is claiming that they have the right to the machine and can take them on to their shop when they move. The machines develop an identity of their own which is quite independent of where they seem to have been situated originally. Is any similar situation likely to arise here?

My Lords, the Government and Parliament had the advantage of some knowledge of the Australian experience as we considered the Bill that became the Gambling Act 2005. There are strict regulations with regard to numbers of machines according to which premises have applied for the licence. We would not wish to see those machines in Australia, which are referred to as pokies, spread in such an unlimited way, and the Gambling Act meets the requirements of regulation.

My Lords, the Question is about betting shops, but in considering the casino policy and the proposals with regard to small, large and regional casinos, the Government were concerned to specify the number of machines in each category that could be operated by the licensee.

My Lords, the use of FOBTs effectively turns bookmakers into mini-casinos. The Minister referred to the review and to the duty of the Gambling Commission in the future. When does he anticipate that the commission will review the use of FOBTs for the first time? Will that review also look at jackpot machines, category A machines and many of the other machines that were debated during proceedings on the Gambling Bill and gave rise to many different and conflicting views about whether more should be allowed?

My Lords, that is the responsibility of the Gambling Commission. The House will wish to be fair to betting shops, which is what the Question is about. They began to be licensed under the legislation on 21 May, only a short while ago; consequently, the Gambling Commission is not in a position to produce detailed statistics and an analysis of how it is tackling the problem. However, it is the commission’s responsibility to do so in due course.

My Lords, we on these Benches are very concerned about the impact on vulnerable groups of the Government’s gambling liberalisation. What is the Minister’s reaction to the enormous increase in the number of people using GamCare, the online advice service, in the past few years?

My Lords, the Opposition also expressed their great concern about the Licensing Act 2003 causing enormous chaos in the nation. That has not come to pass. Therefore, why should we think that the Gambling Act will have a similar effect to the one they described then? We have not seen an enormous increase in drinking habits since the passing of the Licensing Act; we have, however, seen the ability to control the development of licensing under the legislation. That applies to gambling as well. Of course we are concerned about online betting. It is one of the reasons why the Gambling Act needed to come into force, as we were aware that this new form of betting did not come under the former legislation.