CARE campaigns for better protections for problem gamblers in the UK, especially those who struggle with online gambling. Regulating gambling activity is a reserved policy issue, on which only the UK Parliament can legislate. However, the Assembly does have powers in two areas: First, it has responsibility for health and should take action to care for those suffering from problem gambling. Second, it has powers in relation to planning which can be used to help problem gamblers by restricting to the number of betting shops. We will now consider both in turn:
- Better Direct Care for Problem Gamblers
A motion, which was debated on 18 March 2015 and tabled by a cross party group of Assembly Members; Mick Antoniw AM, Jocelyn Davies AM, Aled Roberts AM and Nick Ramsay AM called on the Welsh Government, amongst other things, to consider developing a strategy to tackle the problems associated with gambling.
Although the Minister, Lesley Griffiths in her response to the debate did acknowledge “I do believe that it is the duty of the Welsh Government to engage with the gambling industry and the Responsible Gambling Trust and ensure that assistance is accessible to people in every corner of Wales,” CARE is very concerned that the Welsh Government does not seem to be taking this responsibility seriously. We were particularly disturbed to discover that while the Governments in Scotland and England recognised their responsibilities in this regard and included gambling questions in their health surveys, Wales did not and the Gambling Commission was forced to intervene to add questions to another omnibus survey in Wales.  CARE believes that the Welsh Government should do more to identify and support people who believe that they have a problem with gambling.
2. Better Indirect Care For Problem Gamblers by Limiting Betting Shop Proliferation
a) Current Powers
The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 which applies to England only, changed the class of use of betting shops from A2 (financial and professional use) to ‘sui generis’ (meaning a class for which no use is specified). This means that if a betting shop would like to occupy premises not previously used for betting and fit it out for their purposes, they may have to apply for planning permission because it would constitute a change of use. So whereas in the past, a betting shop could buy a financial premises such as a bank and turn it into a betting shop without getting planning permission (because both shops were classified as being for similar purposes), betting shops now have to go through the process of obtaining planning permission from the local council. To refuse such applications, a council would need to have valid planning grounds.  Town and country planning is a devolved policy area and therefore the Welsh Government could also consider developing such measures.
b) Future Powers
The umbrella organisation the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils across England and Wales has also called on the UK Government to give English and Welsh councils similar powers to that being transferred to Scotland through the implementation of the Smith Commission’s recommendations. These powers would give local authorities the ability to limit the number of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) on local high streets. FOBTs are highly addictive and can result in individuals losing large sums of money in a very short space of time.
The LGA, has also suggested that in addition to planning measures, licensing rules should also be changed to allow councils the ability to refuse new betting shops.
Questions for Candidates
- Do you recognise that more information is needed about the prevalence of problem gambling in Wales?
- Going forward, will you commit to pressing the Welsh Government to include gambling questions in its health survey in order to assess the number of problem and at risk gamblers in Wales?
- Do you recognise that whilst the Welsh Government does not have any powers to regulate the gambling industry, there is a responsibility on the Government through the health service to help problem gamblers?
- Will you commit to pressing the Welsh Government to do more to help problem gamblers through the health service?
- Will you commit to making the case for the Welsh Assembly to use its powers to bring forward similar legislation to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015?
- Do you think that Wales should be given more powers to limit the number of FOBTs on our high streets?