Don’t bet on Bookies’ end

betting shops, gambling, south east london

A Delicate Miss, Small Secret, My Wild Gata and Morning-Has-Broken are set for this week’s horse race in a Coral shop in Peckham.

There are many who don’t care about these names, but to others, who place on them their frustrations, sorrows and money, the horses mean everything.

It’s been more than six months since the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) decided to restrict betting shops’ planning proposals and cash stakes on fixed-odd betting terminals, but has the number of high street bookmakers gone down as the proposal initially intended?

And more importantly: has the population of gamblers shrunk?

Despite the DCMS’ attempts to promote their anti-proliferation and anti-gambling policy, their efforts appear to have have failed.

In 2011, Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, published a survey showing there were 70 licensed betting shops (LBS) or bookmakers in her constituency.

At least two more have been opened since, despite complaints from some local communities about risks to the livelihood of the borough.

Back in the shop, a friendly member of staff asks for ID before letting us in. Drinks are available, the TV volume is high enough to hear sports news, yet you can still talk to patrons in a relatively calm atmosphere.

It’s a weekday afternoon and some men in beanies and sneakers are eating from their lunch boxes while thinking about their next move. Quaint as it may seem, in this franchise, a well placed 50p can return hundreds of pounds.

“There are more and more [betting shops] and [they] are no good, of course. I see addicts going crazy and hitting the glass,” says Shola, a football gambler who lives in Peckham.

Another customer comes in as we look around. Erroll comes from Jamaica but he has lived in Peckham for a while, he’s quite tall and wearing a nice cedar green jacket.

He says he is unemployed and that he comes here almost every day to spend his money and his time. Desperate for money and a job, he can’t help trying his luck by risking all that he has, waiting for a jackpot to change his life.

According to the most recent British Gambling Commission survey, there is a high rate of gamblers in Britain, be them bookie or casino visitors, who live on social benefits.

For the past two years, a group called Peckham Residents’ Network has tried to raise awareness of the increasing number of betting shops opening in the town centre, but still their appeals remain unheard: not a single shop has been closed down in this period.

Despite the DCMS’ attempts to promote their anti-proliferation and anti-gambling policy, their efforts appear to have have failed.

Critics have doubted the effectiveness of controlling the number of physical bookmakers as online betting is still on the rise: in 2014, figures showed licensed online betting was worth one billion pounds.

When asked why he prefers to bet in the shop as opposed to the comfort of his home, Shola says he never did it on a computer because nothing could compare to coming in to see the friendly shop manager and chill with other folks. To him, socialising is part of gambling.

“If I have reached my limit of the day, it’s okay. I stay here to watch the football, get some coffee and just chat with people around,” he continues as another man dances and laughs around him while he speaks.

But why choose a gambling shop instead of a community centre for making friends?

Just like with the health warning on cigarette packages, bookmakers make an effort to remind people that they come here to “gamble for leisure”. Slogans like “bet responsibly” are visible on every desk and roulette machine.

If you came in with a £100, you lose it all and want to go home to get another £100, [then] you’re addicted.

Schola and Erroll both say they are definitely not addicted, that they couldn’t even tell what being a gambling addict means: “If you came in with a £100, you lose them all and want to go home to get another £100, [then] you’re addicted.”

Latest figures show that the total number of bookmakers in the UK hasn’t grown since March 2014.

But looking at a figures breakdown, franchises such as William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfred still managed to see a slight increase in income. It’s the smaller chains and individual shops that have started closing down.

With smaller brands being most affected by the government’s planning restrictions, it only means that major players will keep expanding their businesses and continue to be blamed for blighting local high street’s businesses and the general atmosphere.

 

All photography and slideshow images by Sara Furlanetto