The gambling industry in the UK has exploded in the last fifteen years. The rapid technological advancements have helped to facilitate the boom in gambling and this has helped generate billions in revenue. There are however several social and economic implications with gambling shops. Gambling shops tend to take away more from society than they contribute.
Businesses have an obligation to return profits. That is their goal and everything else is secondary. They have no moral obligation to ensure that society is “better off” unless it is at the request of their shareholders. There is however a bigger, more poignant point that has to be made. That is betting shops, particularly in poorer areas take away more than money.
I have lived in South East London for my entire life and I pass through Deptford on a daily basis and at the beginning of a road named Evelyn Street there is a William Hill. If you travel further, some two hundred yards or so there is a Paddy Power. Across the road from the Paddy Power is a Jennings Bet and across the road is a Coral. On one road there are four competing betting shops, all providing the same service. All situated in an area of relatively low income and more importantly, all taking more away from the local community than putting back in. The main reason why I am opposed to so many betting shops in poorer areas is because the very nature of gambling ensures that money is taken away from the participant. Bookmakers may glamorise unfavorable odds by emphasing the potential winnings and bombarding customers with the rewards, but there would be no gambling industry if it were designed to reward customers. Its very purpose is to take money away. Moreover, there is more to lose if you naturally earn lower income. Individuals on lower incomes are spending a higher proportion of their earnings in betting shops; therefore they bear a greater burden if they lose.
According to BBC News bookmakers argue they create jobs and support the local community. Vague and hollow statements may wash with some, but that is an empty statement. Labour costs are the price every business must pay regardless, so to opine that is stating the obvious. “Support the local community.” How? By extracting money from low earners? Betting shops omit what we call in economics negative externalities. Externalities are the cost or benefit of ones actions that affect a third party. Betting shops create jobs (positive externality) but the increase in reckless gambling results in higher policing, higher health costs and a reduction in the quality of local lives for the rest of the community. All negative externalities. Thus, the high social costs far outweigh the social benefits.
Earlier this year more than 1,100 local Southwark residents signed a petition to curtail the number of betting shops in their local area. The campaign is aimed at changing planning laws so that betting shops cannot move into closed banks or post offices. Currently they can because they are classified as financial and professional services. But a change in the law will see them have to go through different, more difficult channels to obtain retail space. Something that would be welcomed by many.
Rowena Davis, a Councillor from Peckham South London started the petition, here is what she said:
“When I walk through my area within 10 minutes I pass eight bookmakers and that means they are more common than post offices or corner shops. We know they are clustering in poorer areas.”
Clearly this is an issue that several parties feel strongly about. As I mentioned earlier, betting shops have no moral obligation to uphold, their aim is to maximise profits. But they should still be aware of the high social costs that are imposed on society because of their predatory actions and local councils should also be aware that when betting shops are saturated on a high street, they will bear higher social costs as a result.