21% of gambling premises are located in the most deprived areas of the country, compared with just 2% in the least deprived decile. The geography of gambling premises in Britain, released today [23 August] by the University of Bristol and supported by Standard Life Foundation raises serious concerns for the poorest areas of the country, given that gambling – even at relatively low levels – has been linked to a range of financial problems, including use of payday loans and missing mortgage payments.
Although online gambling has taken off in recent years, gambling at physical venues still accounted for nearly half (44%) the UK’s gambling yield (excluding lotteries) prior to the first coronavirus lockdown - around £5 billion. As of November 2020, there were still more gambling premises than the number of stores run by the largest eight supermarket chains in Britain (by market share, collectively accounting for over 90% of the market).
The University of Bristol’s research highlights a mismatch in the amenities available locally for deprived communities, compared to those which are more affluent. While all types of gambling premises were disproportionately clustered in more deprived places, other services such as supermarkets and libraries were found to be more evenly spread. For example, while 10% of food stores are in the most deprived decile of areas, this rises to as much as 34% of amusement arcades (or ‘family entertainment centres’), 30% of bingo venues and 29% of adult gaming centres.
Areas with the highest number of betting shops per capita included Glasgow, Liverpool, parts of London and Middlesbrough, with on average one betting shop per 3-4,000 residents.
The research also highlights the link between coastal areas and gambling. Coastal areas are home to nearly three-quarters (72%) of amusement arcades, with all of the top ten places with the most arcades being well-known seaside resorts.
Questions also remain about the close proximity of gambling premises to a range of populations who could potentially be vulnerable to gambling harms. Half (50%) of gambling treatment centres are within a five minute walk (250 metres) of the nearest gambling premises, while nearly 10% of schools (over 2,000 schools) have a gambling venue within a five minute walk – affecting 742,000 school pupils.
Researchers point out that the evidence shows that whilst clustering of betting shops is not generally considered desirable by local residents and may promote unhealthy choices within an area, there is often little that local authorities can do to prevent it. Many report feeling frustrated at their lack of control over licencing of certain gambling premises, local authorities are required to “aim to permit” the use of a premises for gambling if they are consistent with the licencing objectives.
Mubin Haq, Chief Executive of Standard Life Foundation, said:
“Problem gambling is a public health issue, causing serious harm to people’s finances, livelihoods and relationships. Today’s report highlights that those living in poorer areas are more likely to be living next to gambling premises. Those with the least resources are being targeted more, with twice as many gambling venues on their doorstep as supermarkets. If we are to truly level up, the new gambling reforms currently being considered must take into account the geography of gambling venues and give local authorities more control over licensing.”
Jamie Evans, Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol, said:
“The research highlights the clear mismatch between the amenities available in ‘left behind’ areas, compared with those that are more affluent. Rather than having greater access to the facilities, services and opportunities that help people to improve their lives, those in more deprived communities are disproportionately faced with choices that can often prove harmful. While the gambling industry may offer some much-needed employment in these areas, it usually takes much more than it gives, leaving a legacy of greater hardship and increased social problems.”