Tougher UK gambling regulation needed to protect communities – councils and Police and Crime Commissioners say

Ahead of the publication of the Government’s white paper on the future of the Gambling Act, the Local Government Association and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) are calling for tougher powers for councils to determine where and how many gambling premises can open in their areas, alongside a crackdown on the current volume of gambling advertising and marketing. 


Hands holding a mobile phone indoors

The Government must toughen up regulations on the gambling industry to help protect communities and vulnerable people from gambling-related harm, councils and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are urging today. 

Ahead of the publication of the Government’s white paper on the future of the Gambling Act, the Local Government Association and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) are calling for tougher powers for councils to determine where and how many gambling premises can open in their areas, alongside a crackdown on the current volume of gambling advertising and marketing. 

Evidence shows that gambling and betting premises are typically located in more deprived areas, where residents may be more vulnerable to issues stemming from gambling and betting.

However, councils currently have limited powers to prevent the opening of a gambling premises even if there are already others nearby or there are reasons why it may not be an appropriate location, for example because there are supported housing, treatment centres or schools in close proximity.

The LGA is calling for councils to be given more legal flexibility and power to approve or reject applications for local gambling premises depending on local circumstances, taking into consideration the interests of the local economy, community impact and views of local residents. 

With problem gambling leading to spiralling debt, homelessness and relationship breakdowns – and significant costs to taxpayers as well as individuals through crime and health impacts - the LGA and APCC are calling for measures to reduce the volume of advertising and marketing. 

Councils and PCCs are concerned about growing reports of people who are vulnerable to gambling-related harm being targeted with free bets and other marketing offers even when they are trying to stop gambling. 

Since the Act was first introduced, technological development has seen a significant increase in the numbers of people gambling remotely, associated with a shift towards gambling companies advertising online and via social media.  

In 2017 around 80 per cent of advertising and marketing took place through online channels. Sports channels regularly watched by children are also closely associated with gambling advertising.

The LGA and APCC are also urging the Government to introduce a mandatory, statutory levy on gambling firms, to replace the current system of voluntary industry donations funding research, education and treatment.  

This would help fund an expansion of support provision, ensuring those experiencing gambling-related harm have access to the right care and remove current concerns over the independence of funding routed through voluntary donations.  

Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Councils are not anti-gambling, but it is time we have a regulatory framework for gambling that above all else prioritises protecting vulnerable people from gambling-related harm and gives powers to local communities. 

“The Government should take steps to reduce the volume of advertising and marketing offers that are routinely made available via television and online.

“The review is a golden opportunity for the Government to implement further measures that empower local communities and their elected representatives to determine what and how many gambling premises they have in their local areas. It is unacceptable that councils have such limited powers to refuse applications for new premises.” 

Joy Allen and David Sidwick, APCC joint leads for Addictions and Substance Misuse said: “We know that people are committing serious crimes to fund gambling addictions and Police and Crime Commissioners are committed to taking action to make our communities safer. 

“We support calls for councils to have more legal flexibility and power with respect to local gambling premises and we want to see measures to get to grips with problem gambling online. 

“Problem gambling can do a great deal of harm, to both the individual and to society, and we want to ensure that support is available to those affected and, where the industry has acted irresponsibly, it is held to account for its actions.” 

Case studies

Leeds City Council received an application from a gambling operator who wanted to open a new bingo premises in the Harehills area of Leeds. The council takes a public health approach to gambling-related harm, so therefore had information showing that this area has high levels of deprivation and many vulnerable adults and children. In particular, this area is home to large numbers of looked after children, children with lower educational attainment and has high levels of youth offences. Additionally, this area also has significant amounts of alcohol related harm – with many problem drinkers, significant numbers of alcohol premises, and high levels of alcohol related crime, anti-social behaviour and alcohol related admissions to hospital. It was felt that this was an inappropriate area for another gambling premises to open in, particularly as there was already a significant clustering of gambling premises. Due to these factors, the council did not want to grant this licence and worked to refuse it. However, the application was eventually granted because the operator had argued they had provisions in place to mitigate against these challenges, and due to the aim to permit, it was difficult to refuse this application.

One licensing authority in Worcestershire received an application for a bingo premises licence. The site the bingo premises is situated in is a former bank, so enjoys a prominent location near to the high street and close to a taxi rank. Licensing Committee members did not want this premises to open, as it was felt that there were already enough gambling premises in that location. Again, the aim to permit was problematic. Given that this was a new application with no evidence of gambling problems linked to the specific proposed premises, the lawyers at the hearing argued that the authority had to permit unless there was a good reason not to, and there was no evidence the authority could draw upon to block the application. As a result, the application was granted despite the misgivings of the authority.

Notes to editors

  1. Gambling Commission – Statutory aim to permit
  2. Be Gamble Aware (pdf) report into machine gambling characteristics by location
  3. The LGA’s response to the Government’s Review of the Gambling Act 2005 Terms of Reference and call for evidence
  4. Guardian article referencing impact of targeted gambling advertising.
  5. BBC  -  Coronavirus: 'I'm being bombarded by gambling ads