Problem gambling is behaviour that creates negative consequences for the gambler, his/her family, friends and the wider community. These negative consequences can include financial hardship, family breakdown and even suicide. In the light of this CARE for Scotland is seeking greater protection for those experiencing a gambling addiction. Legislative change is needed and improved safeguards to protect problem gamblers are long overdue.
Fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are a relatively new high speed gaming machine. They are very controversial because research demonstrates that FOBTs provide the most addictive form of gambling – they have been labelled the “crack cocaine of gambling” – and because it is possible for players to lose large amounts of money on FOBTs very quickly.
In December 2015, the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee published a report calling for FOBTs to be banned from all licensed premises. Under the current law betting shops can have up to four FOBTs on their premises. There has been a proliferation of betting shops in some high streets and rows of shops. This has led to a concern over the clustering of FOBTs over a small area, particularly within or close to areas of high deprivation.
Until such a time as the Scottish Parliament has powers to ban all FOBT machines, CARE for Scotland would urge MSPs to take two steps:
First, to use their new powers in the Scotland Bill to prevent any more FOBTs being introduced by preventing new licensed premises from being allowed to contain them. The new powers include the power to regulate the number of gaming machines with a maximum charge for use of over £10 in relation to new licence applications for betting shops. This enables local licensing boards to prevent the introduction of any FOBT machines in new licensed premises.
Second, to enable local authorities to tackle the proliferation of betting shops by reforming planning law to facilitate the restriction of FOBT machines and problem gambling more generally. Shop premises are categorised into various classes by the Town and Country Planning (Use of Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997. When a company or individual proposes using shop premises for a use outwith this class, they must apply to the local authority planning department for permission to change the use of the premises. At present betting shops are included in the ‘financial, professional and other services’ class. If the Scottish Government introduced a specific planning class for betting shops, this would allow local Planning Authorities more discretion in limiting the number of such shops in their area as planning permission would need to be obtained for a change of use before any new betting shops could be opened. The Scottish Government was asked to do so as part of its review of the planning order, but announced in February 2015 that it had sadly decided not to.
Questions for Candidates
- Will you promise to address the issue of problem gambling in Scotland?
- Will you promote the use of the new powers of the Scottish Parliament provided by the Scotland Bill to limit the numbers of FOBTs to the greatest possible extent?
- Will you support the creation of a specific planning class for betting shops under the Town and Country Planning (Use of Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997 in order to give local authorities more discretion in limiting the proliferation of licensed betting premises?