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Barking MP calls for government to fight off ‘overwhelming’ grip of bookies

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 December 2016 | UPDATED: 08:52 14 December 2016

Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge and Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas want to take back the high street from bookies

Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge and Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas want to take back the high street from bookies

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As the government considers a review of gaming, Sebastian Murphy-Bates looks at how borough bookies exposes people to ‘highly addictive’ machines on which they can bet £100 in the space of just 20 seconds

‘Betting shops ruin my road to recovery with special offers’

An unemployed gambling addict says the high concentration of bookies fuels his problem.

Yonnas Tasew struggles to stay away from bookies in Barking town centre.

The 44-year-old, who lives in Wood Lane, Dagenham, says he and hundreds of others fall prey to gambling in Station Parade and East Street every day.

“I’m suffering from a gambling problem at the moment,” he said. “I’ve tried to give up but they’ve got my phone number so they text me to offer free bets so I always end up spending money.”

Yonnas thinks the community would be better served by more sociable enterprises.

“Almost every day I see between 150 and 200 people hanging around outside bookies in the street,” he said.

“Why isn’t there a cafe or somewhere people can enjoy themselves? All these bookies are interested in is attracting people to spend their money – we need something else in their place.”

Politicians, recovery workers and even gamers are calling on the government to fight gambling-related harm.

Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge has written to the Review of Gambling Machines and Social Responsibility Measures asking for stricter rules for the borough’s 51 betting shops.

She noted that Barking’s most crime-ridden ward, Abbey Ward, has the most betting shops, adding 7am to 10pm opening hours make access easy for addicts after constituents spent £38,732,500 on fixed odd betting terminals (FOBT) prior to September last year.

“I want the government to understand what impact these machines and betting shops are having,” she said. “They need to get their act together and stop the number of these machines and shops rising in our borough.”

Barking and Dagenham has 51 betting shops, including 17 Corals Barking and Dagenham has 51 betting shops, including 17 Corals

The government will respond to the consultation “in due course” after it ended earlier this month. Dame Margaret hopes changes will mean councils should be able to restrict advertising after she spotted 23 gambling adverts in under 500 metres in Barking town centre.

Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas said bookies have a “prolific” presence in deprived areas.

“It is often the most vulnerable and those in the most desperate financial situations that frequent the shops, mainly to use the highly addictive FOBTs,” he said. “They breed destitution and addiction.”

A spokesman for Coral Ladbrokes – which has 25 shops in the borough – said responsible gambling was “non-negotiable” and it is addressing FOBT concerns.

Barking town centre contains 20 per cent of the borough's bookies Barking town centre contains 20 per cent of the borough's bookies

“One of our pledges was to remove advertising of machines from our shop windows and we will continue to look for new ways to assist the small minority of those who may suffer from gambling-related problems,” he said, adding the average time customers spend on FOBTs in one session is under 10 minutes.

Despite a 21 per cent increase in borough bookies since 2008, a council spokesman said momentum was dropping, adding: “We received one application this year which was a relocation of a William Hill shop in Dagenham. It was approved as it complied with Council Local Plan policy.”

If you or somebody you know is battling betting addiction, you can call the National Gambling Helpline for free on 0808 8020 133.

The line is open every day from 8am to midnight. There is also a web chat service you can use for free at gamcare.org.uk

You can also get in touch with London-based Bet Know More at betknowmoreuk.org where you will find details on the dangers of FOBTs, gambling-related crime and advice for those in debt.

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