Councils should have more legal flexibility when considering applications for local gambling premises, say councils and Police and Crime Commissioners

The Local Government Association and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) have called for tougher powers for councils to determine where and how many gambling premises can open in their areas, alongside a crackdown on the current volume of gambling advertising and marketing.

The comments were made ahead of publication of the Government’s white paper on the future of the Gambling Act.

The two organisations argued that councils currently have limited powers to prevent the opening of a gambling premises even if there are already others nearby or there are reasons why it may not be an appropriate location, “for example because there are supported housing, treatment centres or schools in close proximity”. 

The LGA said councils should be given more legal flexibility and power to approve or reject applications for local gambling premises depending on local circumstances, taking into consideration the interests of the local economy, community impact and views of local residents.

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Councils and PCCs are also said to be concerned about growing reports of people who are vulnerable to gambling-related harm being targeted with free bets and other marketing offers even when they are trying to stop gambling.

The LGA and the APCC said: “Since the Act was first introduced, technological development has seen a significant increase in the numbers of people gambling remotely, associated with a shift towards gambling companies advertising online and via social media. 

“In 2017 around 80% of advertising and marketing took place through online channels. Sports channels regularly watched by children are also closely associated with gambling advertising.”

The two organisations also called on the Government to introduce a mandatory, statutory levy on gambling firms, to replace the current system of voluntary industry donations funding research, education and treatment. 

“This would help fund an expansion of support provision, ensuring those experiencing gambling-related harm have access to the right care and remove current concerns over the independence of funding routed through voluntary donations,” they said.

Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “It is time we have a regulatory framework for gambling that above all else prioritises protecting vulnerable people from gambling-related harm and gives powers to local communities.

“The Government should take steps to reduce the volume of advertising and marketing offers that are routinely made available via television and online.

“The review is a golden opportunity for the Government to implement further measures that empower local communities and their elected representatives to determine what and how many gambling premises they have in their local areas. It is unacceptable that councils have such limited powers to refuse applications for new premises.”

Joy Allen and David Sidwick, APCC joint leads for Addictions and Substance Misuse, said: “We know that people are committing serious crimes to fund gambling addictions and Police and Crime Commissioners are committed to taking action to make our communities safer.

“We support calls for councils to have more legal flexibility and power with respect to local gambling premises and we want to see measures to get to grips with problem gambling online.

“Problem gambling can do a great deal of harm, to both the individual and to society, and we want to ensure that support is available to those affected and, where the industry has acted irresponsibly, it is held to account for its actions.”

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