‘Betting shops prey on the vulnerable’, says council chief

The council with Scotland’s highest concentration of betting shops has accused the gambling industry of targeting vulnerable people, while announcing plans to limit the number of new outlets.

In an interview with the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme, West Dunbartonshire Council Planning Chairman, Lawrence O’Neill, accused bookmakers of “feeding on the vulnerable”.

And he said there will be a “presumption against” new betting shops when planning applications are being considered in his area.

New powers

West Dunbartonshire has the highest concentration of bookmakers in Scotland and it is estimated that almost £4 million was lost through bets in 2016.

O’Neill was speaking as councils across Scotland are set to be handed new decision making powers, through a legislative amendment at Holyrood.

Traditionally, bookmakers have been allowed to open at premises previously occupied by businesses such as banks on the grounds that they provide a ‘financial service’.

The new powers will allow councils to consider applications based on wider criteria.


As part of its coverage, the BBC shared the story of Bob, a gambler recovering from a serious addiction.

Bob, who ran his own business, told the broadcaster that gambling used to be his “be-all and end-all”: “I’d go home and sleep till 12 in the day and at 12 o’clock I’d go straight to the bookmakers again and I’d be there till closing or until I lost my money.

“Then I’d go back to work and work through the night and the same routine constantly perpetuated itself.”

After being overcome with guilt when he didn’t have enough money to buy his mother a birthday present, he sought help and has not gambled for some time.

Reform needed

Pressure has been mounting on the UK Government to curb the gambling industry and specifically Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), which allow gamblers to wager up to £100 every 20 seconds.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs has already advised the UK Government to cut the maximum stake from £100 per spin to £2, saying:

“It is critical that the Government considers not just the impact on ‘problem gambling’, but wider gambling related harm caused by the FOBT machines and the cumulative impact on families and communities that these machines can have”.

A Westminster Government consultation on gambling closed last month, and ministers will decide how to limit the harmful effects of gambling in the coming weeks.

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