Earlier today, Labour secured an opposition debate on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). These are gaming machines found in bookies that have a very high risk, high speed element of play – allowing bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds. Ed Miliband has announced Labour’s response to growing concerns about these gaming machines.
Crucially, the next Labour government will pass legislation giving councils the power to block planning applications of new bookies, by putting them in a separate use class. Currently, bookies do not need to apply for planning permission if they are opening in a venue that used to be a shop. Labour’s plan would require betting companies to seek planning permission if they wanted to open in a premise that wasn’t already a betting shop. Drawing the House’s attention to the court case of Newham Council v Paddy Power last summer, Stephen used the debate to highlight that local authorities are currently powerless to prevent new betting shops from opening.
Labour also argued for legislation to allow councils to revoke or reduce the number of FOBTs in existing bookies – there is currently a cap of four per shop; and to reduce the harm caused by FOBTs by increasing the time between play; requiring pop-ups that warn players how long they have played and how much they have betted and lost; and introducing breaks in play.
Labour would also expect operators to have at least two members of staff present at all times. Stephen advised the House that, following Newham Council’s review into the William Hill branch opposite East Ham station late last year, the company accepted the Council’s request – and Newham Council believes that this is the first time this has happened – to always have two members of staff present when the shop is open. He said this “...is important, not only for the well being of staff, but also to help deal with the anti-social behaviour attracted by betting shops, which does so much damage to passers-by and other traders.”
Labour’s motion was voted down by Government MPs, but Stephen said afterwards: “We will continue to campaign about this important issue. If this Government doesn’t act then the next Labour one will.”
Stephen's speech on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals can be read here.