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More hairdressers please. It’s better for the social fabric.

I keep trying to get off the subject of gambling, but when so much is said about the industry that is either illogical or merely places the blame for other issues at its door, it’s hard to resist putting a counter case.

Take, for example, the comments of the Local Government Association representative who told MPs in the second DCMS Select Committee session yesterday that “at the moment, numbers [of betting shops on the High Street] cannot be restricted and this results in crime, disorder and misery for local people.” Or the Deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, who yesterday published a report claiming the industry uses “predatory” practices that are “destroying” neighbourhood shopping areas.

To say that the proliferation of betting shops in some areas is what is causing crime and misery would be disgraceful if it wasn’t so obviously stupid. Admittedly, I never cease to be amazed by how many of the same sort of shop can be supported in any one place (within half a mile of my house, there are 11 estate agents, which presumably all make a living) but the fact that they can doesn’t make them predatory: it demonstrates consumer demand and offers customers choice. People don’t shop in multiple betting outlets one after the other: they decide which shop they want to frequent on any given day for reasons of price, product, ambiance, or all three.

How many options they have tells you nothing about the social problems in this country, any more than a fall in the number of shops would tell you that things were on the up. Where I used to live, the only Turf Accountant has closed, while crime has gone up. What point am I supposed to make about that?

Ms. Harman’s statement that  “there must be the right protection in place for our high streets and vulnerable communities” falls into the category of classic political waffle, best detected when you can’t find a person on the planet who would argue “no there shouldn’t”. Her ‘the lives of many of the people in those areas are also blighted by the problem gambling that [the High Street bookmaking shops] exacerbate’ is just as easily spotted as a point-scoring opportunity taken without any regard for the facts. I bet you a pound for a penny that Harriet Harman has not yet the first clue what betting operators do to combat problem gambling (given that she took this portfolio a month ago) nor indeed what the rates are in different areas, or whether the existence of four shops increases it over two.

But the acid test as to whether any part of what she said yesterday had been given any thought will come when she makes her first pronouncement about online gambling, whose growth is a certainty if the number of retail betting outlets is cut. Presumably she will be all in favour of it, rather than arguing that betting needs to take place in a social environment (rather than the privacy of someone’s home) if problem gambling is to be curbed. Time will tell.

One final thought: in the 100-yard walk between the bus stop and my house, there is what used to be a Tote and is now a smartly-rebranded Betfred, three off-licences, and three curry houses. That means that along that stretch, just about the only types of retail outlet that I have never heard associated in some way with anti-social behaviour are an optician and a hairdresser.

Does that explain why someone broke into my car last night?

Posted in Betting industry, My articles, Politics, Regulation.

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6 Responses

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  1. colston says

    I think that no one is more suitably placed than Harriet Harman to comment on “crime, disorder and misery for the local person” as a member of Parliament she’s probably guilty of all 3 offences!

  2. Trigger Happy says

    Mark, I don’t know if it’s a compliment or a criticism but you come across as one of those people who could quite easily argue the exact opposite of the point you’re making and convince us of that too!

    Can I ask if tongue-in-cheek you are currently working for any bookmaker (s)?

    The Hills and Laddies spokesmen in today’s Racing Post (Tues) bring us the usual major bookmaker butter-wouldn’t-melt response to the issue also. So they only open more shops in poorer areas because it’s cheaper? Aye. Nothing to do with a target audience of “mugs” that they probably won’t find in the more affluent areas.

    In some ways I agree with her. Walking along a high street at night time with an empty betting shop execpt for a few youths playing the machines can be intimidating. Having an intimidating atmosphere in your high street can’t be good for the local community can it?

    The fantasy for me would be to have high streets like Highgate or Hamsptead or Notting Hill where there is diversity and the big chains (Tescos, Sainsburys etc) aren’t allowed to take over and spoil it all!

  3. MD says

    I think we all have that fantasy…. But the reality is that we get what we support. Where I live, in Barnes, there was an almighty battle to stop Sainsbury’s opening a local store (“don’t rip the heart out of White Hart Lane”), but the minute it opened, everyone used it and now people love it. If people didn’t want it, then not using it was the best way to close it down.

    Similarly, Harriet Harman talked at the BISL conference, the day after I wrote this blog, about ‘giving local people the right to decide whether they want that type of shop in the High Street’. But local people already have that right: if they don’t want it, they should stop using it and it will go away as quickly as it sprang up. You can’t decide commercial success by changing planning laws.

    The answer to your question is yes, I am working for some bookmakers at the moment, although not on this issue. I accept the criticism that it could look like I have written this blog because it suits their agenda. But as it happens, I haven’t. Indeed, the work I am doing for Ladbrokes relates to their international business, and I have no connection at all with their UK policy because they felt that, by virtue of my Betfair past and my being deemed to bleed Betfair blue (by everyone except Betfair, ironically), I was conflicted from acting for them on any UK issues.

    So, far from my having written this because it plays to the bookmakers’ UK agenda, I am considered by the bookmakers to be too far from their agenda to be able to work for them in this country…

    I absolutely accept your point about not wanting to be intimidated as you walk down the HIgh Street. My point is that we need to deal with the root cause of that. As ever, it seems to me, the response of politicians is to deal with the superficial and not the underlying. Closing betting shops doesn’t make aggressive youths less intimidating. If they weren’t inside the betting shop, they’d be out on the street. The issue isn’t WHERE they are, it’s HOW they are. If they’re intimidating and aggressive and disrespectful, then that’s a function of a whole load of things which are neither caused by nor exacerbated by regulated bookmaking firms, and politicians of all colour should be addressing that.

    I heard a former Cabinet minister and grandee of one of the parties speak at a small dinner last night, and he made this comment: “Since the end of the 19th century, we have been falling behind in education. But because it doesn’t affect the middle classes, it just goes on – irrespective of who is in government. It’s a scandal.” Amen to that.

  4. Trigger Happy says

    Bit too political for me this subject but I suppose the Barnes’ locals are using Sainsbury’s because it’s a brand they trust but also because it’s cheaper. And the reason it’s cheaper and can price the small shop owner out of business is because they are so big and powerful they can cut deals with suppliers. The general public doesn’t always know what’s best for them perhaps?!

    It’s been mildly amusing to watch the betting industry defend themselves on this subject though. Betting industry argues betting shops are great….

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Politicians | Mark Davies linked to this post on December 8, 2011

    […] written before at greater length about politicians and platitudes, and how political bullshit is best detected when you can’t […]

  2. Hypocrisy? No! | Mark Davies linked to this post on July 24, 2012

    […] reminded me of the BISL conference last year where Harriet Harman launched a great tirade against bookmaking shops, and then, when asked if that meant she would therefore support online gambling (since consumer […]

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