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The group campaigning against the licensing of a 24-hour gambling venue in Palmers Green has issued the following progress update.

Review of the Application Licence

The StopPGMerkurSlots campaign group has gathered substantial evidence to submit for a review of the application licence. It refers to the massive dissent from the local community (petition now signed by 4,350). It revolves around three issues:

  1. Protection of children and vulnerable people for being harmed or exploited by the presence of a 24/7 gambling venue
  2. Potential crime and social disorder it could generate
  3. Lack of consultation with the local residents due to the pandemic

House Of Lords Report

We have also discovered that the a report has just been published by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry Report of Session 2019–21 HL Paper 79 Gambling Harm - Time for Action. In it they agree with us and Bambos that councils should have more powers to reject gambling premises for no other reason than local residents think they’re unsuitable for the area!

Gambling Commission

Thanks to everyone who wrote to the Gambling Commission. We have also submitted the following lengthy objection to the Gambling Commission, which is reviewing the Gambling Act, in the hope that this will add weight to a drastic change in the law:

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing this submission on behalf of a campaign group in Palmers Green (StopPGMerkurslots Campaign Group).

The campaign group is leading a vigorous drive to prevent a 24hr Adult Gaming Centre being opened by Merkur Slots in Palmers Green, Enfield. To date the petition calling for a review of the licence has been signed by over 4200 residents – this demonstrates the huge strength of feeling in the local community about this issue!

We feel that Merkur Slots are taking full advantage of the current situation with the pandemic. They are systematically buying up old William Hill and other previous betting outlets, so there is no need for a change of use application. They are putting their applications in for a licence to run 24 hour gaming venues at a time when footfall on our high streets is limited, and therefore objections are few, due to the fact that local people and shop owners are unaware that these applications are even taking place.

There are many more people now struggling financially, making them more vulnerable to such a venue. We know that gambling is highly addictive. Merkur are keen to play his aspect down, selling their arcades as entertainment centres, rather than what they are, gambling outlets.

In our case, we live in an area that has a large number of growing families. Two schools sandwich the part of our high street in question. Although Merkur are keen to stress that they do not impact on children, neon lights and a highly attractive shop front will and attract children and young adults’ attention. It is significant that the NHS is facing a rising tide of gambling related ill health as more betting addicts than ever before are being taken to hospital. Data shows a record number of admissions last year related to gambling addiction, including care for severe mental ill health conditions like psychosis. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of NHS gambling clinics for 13-25 year olds who are suffering from addiction.

We have recently succeeded in getting the council to agree to review the licence that was granted which is a small but significant step forward. The broader issue however is that the current law (Gambling Act 2005) is weighted far too heavily in favour of gambling organisations rather than the local authorities and residents who will be affected the increased Anti-Social Behaviour, the attraction of the venue to vulnerable people (including minors) and the negative impact of such an establishment on efforts to regenerate high streets in future. Councils have very limited powers to prevent the opening of these establishments. In the case of the Merkur Slots chain, as far as we are aware, every single appeal against a license application has been overturned due to the law being on the side of Gambling organisations rather than local authorities.

The July 2020 House of Lords Committee report on gambling harm recommended increasing the powers of local authorities in relation to the growth of gambling premises. It noted that the “liberalisation of the regulation of gambling has led to an increased presence of gambling services on the high street” with the gambling industry driving that demand.

We are calling for an increase in the powers of Local Authorities to limit the growth of gambling premises in an area, on the basis of objections from the local community and considerations of the character of the locality, in line with the process for licensing premises for alcohol sale.

Our local MP, Bambos Charalambous is fully supportive of our campaign for a change in the present law and agrees with us that:

  • When considering applications from gambling operators Local Authorities should have the power to consider what is good for the community as a whole, in line with the process for licensing of premises for the sale of alcohol;
  • Licensing and Local Authorities should have increased powers to refuse applications from gambling operators to open gambling premises and should be able to take into account:
    • That an area already has a concentration of gambling premises;
    • The general character of the location and the use of nearby buildings;
    • Strength of opposition in the local community.
  • That it is the role of locally and democratically elected Councillors to make decisions in the interests of the local community and local economy;
  • The interests of gambling operators should not be the only significant factor in where gambling premises are located.

We are insisting that the current law is changed to give local authorities the power to limit the number of gambling premises in any area and to take note of local objections when deciding whether to approve such a license. We look forward to your immediate response on this issue.

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