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£2 cap on roulette machines could end bookmakers’ ‘siege’

William Hill - which has four shops in Camden Town - says branches could close

24 May, 2018 — By Richard Osley

A branch of William Hill near Mornington Crescent

ONE of the country’s biggest bookmakers, which has four shops in little more than a half-a-mile stretch in Camden Town, says branches are at risk after the government announced new betting limits on roulette machines.

But while some national gambling operators warned of the damage that a £2 wager cap on the fixed odds betting terminals – known as FOBTs – would do to their industry, and Treasury tax takings, the move was welcomed by campaigners in Camden who say the potentially addictive machines ruin lives.

Supporters of the changes also say they hope it will stop high streets being overrun by clusters of bookmakers. There is a limit on the number of machines each shop is allowed to have, and it has long been suspected that the way around this for the larger operators has been to open more branches.

The FOBTs offer quick-fire casino games in which users could stake £100 for each spin of a computer roulette wheel.

On the Kilburn High Road, dubbed the “bookmakers mile”, there are eight betting shops, while a stretch running from Camden Road station Street to Mornington Crescent has six, four of which are run by the same company, William Hill. The company’s chairman, Roger Devlin, has written to Prime Minister Theresa May to object, and the company has estimated 900 branches could become loss-making, adding in a statement: “A proportion of these would be at risk of being closed within a relatively short time of the proposed staking change being implemented and, for the remainder of the estate, we will monitor the actual impact on the estate and performance over the medium and long term.”

GVC, which runs Ladbrokes and Coral shops, said it was “disappointed with the outcome” of the government’s proposals and that operators needed “an adequate implementation period to help prepare and plan for the shop closures that will arise”.

But Camden’s chair of licensing, Maryam Eslamdoust, a Labour councillor in Kilburn who was due to be named the borough’s new deputy mayor last night (Wednesday), said: “I’m delighted that Camden’s curbs on these addictive machines have finally been heeded. I’m hopeful that the new limits will provide some respite for communities like Kilburn which have felt under siege by bookmakers since these wealth extracting FOBTs were let loose on us.”

The council, with support of all political groups, had responded to a government consultation survey supporting the caps. Oliver Cooper, the leader of Camden’s Conservatives, said: “The government has listened and led. This is a stark contrast to the £100 stake that the Labour government allowed under the Gambling Act. It’s good to see that mistake fixed as evidence of its harm to communities like Camden come to light.”

Simon Pitkeathley from business group Camden Town Unlimited said: “Whilst we have to acknowledge that High Streets, and the shops in them, respond to the way people use them, and betting shops have as much right to be there as anyone, the number of places to place a bet in Camden does seem high.  And if this rule change means that space will be made for other places that people will use, for different purposes, I see that as a good thing.”

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