Gambling and the UK Labour Party
By Warwick Bartlett, Chief Executive Global Betting and Gaming Consultants

Harriet Harman MP, the UK’s Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and former Government Minister, is telling the UK electorate that the previous Labour Government got gambling policy completely wrong.

No Harriet, it was education, the economy, defence procurement, law and order, which your government got completely wrong. On gambling you actually got it almost right. The exception was the fiasco over regional casinos which the government got 100% wrong. 

Sir Alan Budd in his 2001 report The Gambling Review stated that the various restraints on the casino industry should be relaxed.
On 11 September 2012 I took part in a radio interview for BBC Radio Wiltshire. The programme’s host Mark O’Donnell wanted to know why Swindon, with a population of 200,000 people, did not have a casino. But it isn’t only Swindon. Add to that Telford (population: 170,000) and Croydon (330,000) both so far denied a casino because, under the 1968 Act, their populations were too small to be included in the permitted areas.
Which Government was in power in 1968? Labour. 
The one thing the previous Labour government did get right, but now say they got completely wrong, was betting. The payout to punters has never been higher and that was exactly what Budd’s report envisaged. Budd said that the best protection for the gambling customer was through competition. Competition would ensure fair play and he has been proven correct.
The Labour Party, now in opposition, is presently upset about betting shops appearing on the UK’s high streets. In actual fact the number of shops in the UK is in decline and has been since 1968 when the country had about 15,000 shops. Today we have around 8,500.
The recession has hit the UK high street particularly hard due to the last Labour Government’s policy of borrow and spend. High street retail business has suffered and consequently shops have closed.
Bookmakers in secondary trading positions can now move on to the high street and shopping malls at much lower rents than ever before. There are not more betting shops they are just more visible to people that haven’t looked for them before.
However as planning laws have become relaxed pent up demand is being satisfied in some areas with more shops than in other areas. This, according to the Labour Party, is where bookmakers are taking advantage of poor people. 
Again, this is not the case. Any shop opens where there is demand for the product or service they sell and bookmakers are sensible enough to incorporate break clauses in their leases so they can hand the keys back to the landlord if the shop proves unsuccessful. Few have done so far.
This last five years Global Betting and Gaming Consultancy has advised clients that gambling is not a recession proof industry.
The real recession that we have witnessed in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Greece has not hit the UK yet. Hopefully it may not. But if it does then a lot of those bright new betting shops on the high street will be closing. 
The Gambling Act 2005 came into force in 2007. It is better to let the economic cycle play out rather than to keep changing the laws on the whim of politicians who frankly get it wrong more times than they get it right.
In the Law section of The Times (13th September 2012) there was an interview with Gerald Gouriet, QC who said that local authorities were in a stronger position than they believe when it comes to rejecting planning applications for betting shops because there is a common misinterpretation of the Gambling Act’s key section, which states that in exercising their functions licensing authorities shall “aim to permit the use of premises for gambling.” 
“The Act says that the authority should aim to permit, not that the authority must permit.”
According to Gouriet “aim to permit” is merely a steer, albeit a strong one, to look favourably on the application but the authority would well be within its rights to reject the application if satisfied on the evidence that it would have a seriously adverse effect on the area.
My view is that we should let the economic cycle play out rather than hastily change law and in the meantime local authorities should test the Gambling Act on the lines suggested by Gouriet.