Hackney betting shops back in spotlight

Hackney Town Hall. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

Hackney Council: taking no chances with gambling policy. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

The borough’s betting shops are under scrutiny again as Hackney council has released a new draft gambling policy and a public consultation on the new document is currently underway.

The policy outlines the principles the council is to apply when examining applications for premises licenses. The new document represents virtually no substantive change to current policy, however.

The sixty-nine page policy, available to read on the council’s website, outlines in detail the principles that the council is to apply when examining applications for premises licenses.

According to Hackney Council’s Cabinet Member for Crime, Sustainability and Customer Services, Cllr Sophie Linden, this lack of change is the result of restrictive legislation.

In a foreword to the report, Linden states the Gambling Act 2005 and the Gambling Commission Guidance “unduly limit the council’s ambitions . . . to encourage the development of a varied and sustainable local environment . . . particularly in controlling numbers of betting shops and the concerns of how an increase of these could undermine the social and economic cohesion in the borough.”

The growth in the number of betting shops and their prevalence on the nation’s high streets has in recent years become a matter of public debate. Hackney, with sixty-four betting shops — three times the national average for a local authority — is at the centre of this debate.

The Hackney Citizen spoke to a number of betting shop customers and workers about the council’s ambitions and although both groups, particularly the latter, welcomed the rigorous age and safety requirements demanded of betting shops by the gambling policy, there was dissent with regard to the possibility of the council being granted additional powers for ‘place shaping’, which was derided by some as unnecessary interference.

One worker (who wished to remain anonymous), although keenly aware of the social problems linked to gambling, was keen to emphasise the economic and social benefits of an occupied high street premises, even if it is a betting shop, as opposed to an empty building, as is commonplace in the age of the ‘death of the high street’. He described the situation is “a double edged sword.”

The gambling policy, reviewed at least once every three years and based on guidance from the Gambling Commission, was created in 2007 to ensure the safety, fairness, and legality of gambling in Hackney for the benefit of its residents and economy.

Hackney Council is inviting residents to comment on its latest policy draft.

To read the draft gambling policy and for further information go to Hackney Council’s website.