Ian Austin: Betting shops no different to alcohol – except more responsible

Two establishments that are an almost universal feature across Britain’s high-streets and town centres are pubs and betting shops, both popular with millions of customers. 

One thing that both the betting and pub/alcohol industries have in common, as argued by Ian Austin, Lord of Dudley in Politics Home this morning, is that they provide many people with a sense of community. 

Sharing a similar sentiment to BoyleSports’ Director of Property and Development, Lee Otter – who spoke to SBC News earlier this year – betting shops play a part in ‘the heart of community life’.

“For a huge number, particularly older men, a betting shop isn’t somewhere simply to place a bet,” Austin remarked. 

“It’s their antidote to loneliness. It’s where they can see a friendly face, get a free mug of hot coffee from a member of staff who knows their first name, where they can idle away for an hour or two chatting with friends.”

Ahead of the Gambling Act review White Paper, which the government states will be published next month after being once again delayed, the Lord of Dudley stated his case there is some ‘food for thought’ for policymakers to take into account. 

Not only does retail betting feature a strong community element, it also provides the high street and the wider UK economy with a much needed economic boost, especially under the current circumstances.

Shop closures in Britain’s town, city and neighbourhood retail centres are commonplace, and wounding the betting sector and the jobs it provides would only add to this, Austin maintained. 

However, he also addressed social responsibility and safety concerns – arguing that the betting industry does far more than its counterparts in alcohol in these areas. 

On the high-street bookie, he added: “In many ways, it’s very similar to a pub. A safe place, a place where you are welcome, where you can be at ease. However, the parallels with a pub don’t stop there. Because we know, just like having an alcoholic drink, betting is not risk-free.

“But unlike alcohol, which leaves the bill for the harm it causes with the taxpayer, the regulated betting and gaming industry contributes to charities that care for the small minority of people for whom betting does become a problem.”

Weighing in on the funding debate, which has been boiling in recent months, Austin defended the current model of voluntary contributions from the industry going towards organisations such as Gordon Moody and GamCare.

He shared concerns that the introduction of a ‘statutory levy’, as called for by some reform campaigners, would threaten the current operations of the ‘third sector’ – which as it stands provides 90% of UK treatment. 

Citing UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) statistics – the problem gambling rate declined from 0.4% to 0.2% over the past year – in support of his arguments, Austin praised the UK’s treatment system as an “independent, nationwide network of expertise, already well funded”.

“The rules and regulations governing regulated betting and gaming are due to be renewed,” he concluded.

“The industry welcomes that, they know regulations must be updated to keep pace with technology and consumer trends. But before Ministers publish their White Paper, they would do well to pause and consider a few home truths.”

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