Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Betting On Disaster

I had a message from my MP Diane Abbott today to ask for my opinion on the high number and continuing spread of betting shops in Hackney.

I think they add nothing to the community and in fact create problems. Firstly at a domestic level it is quite obvious that these places are taking money away from families that badly need it. Often situated in very run-down areas it is painful to see guys (and it is, as far as I can see, exclusively guys who use these places) spending hours and small fortunes in these places while women in the grocery shop next door are trying to negotiate a few pence discount on their children's food (and I have seen this too, several times). Of course I can't presume to know any individual's family situation and it is absolutely not the case that I blame gambling addiction, which is it's own serious problem, for childhood poverty although clearly in some cases there are links. I believe the government should be addressing child poverty directly. But tackling gambling addiction is also something the government should be doing, and to do that while allowing these establishments to proliferate is clearly a hypocritical plan.

Secondly they are an issue for everyone in the community because many guys treat these places like pubs or bars. The one nearest me on the corner of Cowper and Matthias Roads normally has a group of guys sat outside drinking cans of beer and smoking. They create litter and regularly there are scuffles and shouting. This is of course exactly the same place where the local "hoodies" gather so what kind of example is being set to young people about how to behave in public?

People may argue that individuals can choose whether to visit these places or not but the bare fact remains that there are no local swimming baths or public tennis courts. Where exactly is the choice? If you cut back on the number of betting shops the choice to visit them or not would remain but people would have to travel further to get to them and many people wouldn't bother.

Writing this I worry that my views are somehow classist - that my middle class background causes me to react negatively to something which is essentially a form of working class entertainment. Could I argue that opera (though I should point out I'm not that middle class, I've been to a lot more betting shops than operas in my life) is just as much of a waste of time and energy? People certainly spend a great deal of money going to the opera and come out sometimes having drunk too much and creating a public nuisance. Well I probably could, but then there are differences. For instance much as enthusiasts might call themselves opera addicts, I'm not aware of anyone who's ever been known to spend most of the day, most days at the opera. And opera houses are generally welcoming to women and to some extent children. Ladbrokes attitude towards women is I think neatly encapsulated in their advertising images, such as the one pictured here.

Anyway all that's being considered here is whether local people should be entitled to object to these places and have their voices heard and responded to. I went onto the Ladbrokes website and they have nine branches withing a mile of my house, William Hill have ten. And the one I mentioned earlier on Cowper Road is neither of those chains, it's a different one! If anything is classist it's the attitude of the government in putting the gambling mega-corporations executives "needs" ahead of the needs and wishes of local people.


butterflywings said...

Completely agree.

There are far too many betting shops.

It's not classist to have standards - not dropping litter, not spending food money on gambling...hmmm...I'm not a fan of betting shops or opera ;-) but people don't tend to spend money on

Gambling is very addictive. It's a problem.

The government should definitely be funding things other than huge gmabling corporations - supercasinos come to mind, too. Like, er, leisure centres, community spaces so that lower income people would have something else to do locally.

Unknown said...

You acknowledged your bias here but you're fundamentally wrong about betting shops as being intrinsically working class - how does one bet on Ascot or similar if you aren't there? What are casinos if not gambling shops for the rich? And the turnover of most, even humble casinos, dwarves the turnover of most gambling shops.

Gambling is presented as a particular working class problem for two reasons 1. it's a way of stigmatising the working class and declaring them "undeserving" poor and 2. even small bets have proportionally greater impacts on household budgets. But if you are going to criticise gambling shops then also criticise the National Lottery (which has been described as a tax on the hopes of the poor) and bingo halls and casinos.

Poverty doesn't come out of gambling - the latest JRF research (I think it was JRF) shows that most families in poverty share certain characteristics - generally they are female headed and that woman is in low paid and insecure work. Banning gambling shops won't end child poverty, in fact chances are it'll have very little impact whatsoever.

Characaturing the working classes or those in poverty as feckless gambers or people without standards (as butterflywings suggests) isn't helpful when the vast majority of those in poverty are the working poor who have strong behavioural standards and traditions.


Agree poverty is not solely caused by gambling but this does not address the issue of why are so many betting shops proliferating everywhere? Of course it has nothing to do with free market enterprises or how gambling is marketed. Ladbrokes advertising poster says it all - gambling is for men and given women's bodies are used to promote everything from cleaning fluids to gambling what can one expect.

The national lottery does not have shops solely set up to for gambling so there is a difference. I still say why are there nore more community leisure centres for communities? Ah but that means money will have to be spent with no visible means of earning a considerable profit. Now gambling shops means individuals enter, hand over their money and the gambling corporations profit.

Ascot does not occur every day whereas gambling shops are common. I've been in gambling shops and I've interviewed the punters. Gambling addiction is not about demonising the poor - the article does not say this but it is government policy which is fuelling the rise in gambling shops. Do we really need one or even four on each high street?

butterflywings said...

Louise - I *didn't* suggest that all poor/ working-class people are 'feckless' and without standards - in fact that's my point, as you say, the majority aren't, and do have standards. It's therefore patronising to expect less from people because they're working class? *That* would be classist.

Of course people of all classes can have gambling problems.
I mentioned casinos, actually, and I believe Kate did, too.

I don't think it's demonising anyone to admit that gambling is a problem, there are betting shops on every high street, and this does disproportionately affect lower income people because they don't have the spare cash to lose. Betting shops are surely disproportionately used by working class people, which doesn't mean all/ most working class people use them. I didn't say 'tut, stupid working class people all throw their money away'. It is a gender issue - customers are disproportionately men.

Cruella said...

I won't respond to every single point but this comment you make Louise: "if you are going to criticise gambling shops then also criticise the National Lottery (which has been described as a tax on the hopes of the poor) and bingo halls and casinos." is just nonsense.

I am absolutely not a fan of the lottery, casinos or bingo halls but to suggest I can't criticise one form of gambling if I don't criticise the others makes no sense. That's like saying don't criticise MacDonalds unless you're going to criticise fish and chip shops and kebab vans too. And my suggestion is not that they should be totally banned. I am not advocating outlawing gambling or betting shops. I am criticising the rapid spread and huge numbers of betting shops and suggesting that local people should have the right to object to them.

Unknown said...


I am not advocating lower standards of behaviour for any class. I am advocating not overanalysising the working classes nor assuming characteristics of them. Many problems have been presented as "working class" problems because of over-surveillance of that group by more privileged and powerful classes. Why are you presuming the punters in betting shops are working class? What evidence is there for that assumption? I'd agree they are disproportionately located in those areas because in more affulent areas their business premises applications are fought as "lowering the tone". I know on our local high street the betting shop was opposed precisely on the grounds of traffic and parking chaos caused by people coming in from other areas (mostly the more affluent areas around us) and parking dangerously and illegally.

I agree it's a gender problem, I agree there are gambling problems but I fundamentally disagree that is a "working class" issue in the sense I think it's being suggested here. Yes income loss disproportionately affects working class households, that's a factor of poverty and low wages. Yes gambling shops are disproportionately in working class areas, that's also a factor in planning process and political power.

I think an any analysis of gambling has to acknowledge the wide range of places it happens. For example online bingo and poker etc is growing far faster than high street gambling revenues and we know that the online community is classed with a middle class bias. Scapegoating working class communities doesn't help.

Cruella said...

Yes indeed but I haven't written an analysis of gambling - I've written an analysis of whether local people should be able to object to betting shops in their area. And I conclude "yes".

I am certainly not scapegoating the working class either - I'm saying the government is at fault for failing to listen to people.

butterflywings said...

Louise, exactly, betting shops are disproportionately located in working-class areas. There must be a demand for them.
Yes, this is also because in middle-class areas, people are more likely to object. All people should have a chance to object to betting shops in their area, which is all Kate is saying.

And there should be more regulation of online gambling and the Lottery, too. (The Lottery ads really annoy me).

Again, I'm not demonising or judging anyone for betting. Many gamblers occasionally bet money they *can* afford to, which is not a problem, the problem is that some people can't do that.
There is a difference between tutting at working-class people for being bad, and saying that something should be regulated.

It's actually patronising to assume people of a certain class somehow are destined to behave in certain ways and any criticism of those ways or even stating facts is classist.

Saying gambling needs more regulation isn't demonising working class people, any more than saying smoking is bad for your health (and should equally be regulated), or supermarkets should make fresh fruit and veg cheaper (so poor people can afford to buy them). I agree sometimes middle-class people can verge on demonising gambling, junk-eating, etc. working-class people are - but Kate *didn't* do that.

In an ideal world, there would be better things for people to do for entertainment than gamble - and of course there wouldn't be any poor people, but until then, it's reasonable to question the way betting shops proliferate.