A campaign against the proliferation of betting shops-finally

Rowenna Davis

A campaign launched by a London Labour councillor, Rowenna Davis, to give communities more power to prevent increasing numbers of betting shops opening in their areas is an excellent step forward. Once again, the response of many on the ‘left’ has proved just how out of touch with reality they are.

I think it’s important to firstly point out that this campaign isn’t going to change the world overnight. Problem gambling won’t disappear if this gets government approval.

It is however a small step in the right direction, as the gambling industry isn’t one that we should be seeking to defend under any circumstances. They are entirely parasitic and socially useless.

As David Lammy quite correctly points out on one of the campaign webpages:

“For anyone that believes that it is time to civilise capitalism, then here is the place to begin. Bookmakers are profiting from poverty. They cluster in deprived urban areas and transform them from hubs of vibrancy to soulless, cheap mini-Las Vegas imitations. In my constituency, there are 40+ bookmakers but not a single bookshop. Residents want to have power to shape their neighbourhood and take pride in them but are at the mercy of bookies that are based in Gibraltar and Malta. Enough is enough.”

Spot on David. You were talking bullshit about smacking but this is all true. They follow and exploit poverty and desperation, and need to be more tightly regulated. I’ve occasionally peered through the window of a betting shop and they are the most depressing, soulless places imaginable, full of desperate people. 

Predictably and depressingly, a myopic and ill-informed response followed the announcement. This piece on Liberal Conspiracy generated an enormous amount of mouth-frothing and criticism in the comments section that followed it. Yours truly intervened a couple of times and received a lot of misinformed stick in return. My basic arguments were never refuted so they are worth repeating:

  • On all of these sorts of questions a simple question needs to be asked. Who benefits? Or for you Latin fans: Cui bono. The situation that pertains at the moment is due to fierce lobbying of the government by the gambling industry. They want to make more and more money, often from people who can afford to lose it least. Defending the status quo is defending their largely unimpeded ability to make profits. The situation is as it is now not because successive governments are concerned to ensure that individual freedom and liberty is protected. It is a consequence of fierce lobbying and policymakers being captured by the industry.
  • One of the responses from those who believe in an unregulated free-for-all has been that if the betting shops are shut or prevented from opening then the business will move somewhere else, i.e. that the level of gambling will not reduce. If that’s true, then why is the industry so keen on opening more shops? Do they like wasting money on unprofitable extra premises?

Another standard argument against the restrictions on gambling is that it is infringing on the ordinary working man’s (and it usually a man) right to spend their money how they please. To the ‘liberals’, this trumps any consideration of what they are spending it on, the fact that the money is essentially being stolen from them and the wider social consequences problem gambling. As far as I’m aware there is no great public appetite for more gambling opportunities, so that argument is nonsense.

The campaign is about giving ordinary people more of a say in what their community looks like. It is hardly revolutionary or liable to fundamentally alter power relations in Britain. Having high streets populated with excessive numbers of betting shops is only in the interests of the gambling industry. No one else. If we are talking about freedom, then the ‘right’ not be surrounded by shops that suck the life out of the area they are located in is more of the sort of ‘freedom’ the left should be interested in. 

It’s interesting to reflect on this in conclusion. The campaigns against loan sharks have received near-unanimous support across the leftwing spectrum. Everyone on the left is more than happy to see their rights to exploit trade restricted, and therefore by definition the right of people to take out high interest loans.

Fundamentally, what is the difference? In both cases, people are being exploited by companies keen to extract money that their victims customers don’t have. So why the double standard?

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