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How Many Betting Shops Does My High Street Really Need?

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

“The next stop is Barking, change here for the C2C…” the District line announces as we draw closer to my station. I have just finished a long shift, it's nearly 11PM and it's safe to say that I am exhausted. The only thought that crosses my mind is the incessant need to get home and sleep the day away.

As I tap out of the barriers my eyes are blinded by the bright lights seeping through the station. “What is still open at this time?”, I think to myself. It’s the usual chicken and chips shop, corner shops, the local pub, and people making their way home from working in central London.

But today, I am particularly irritated by the deceptively inviting lights of betting shops. As a researcher of cultures and communities, I decide there and then to embark on some unplanned field research before going home. I wanted to count just how many betting shops took up space in this local high street of mine – out of both curiosity and, to be honest, annoyance. I counted up to 10 before I made my way home, leaving a singular question in my mind: why does Barking town centre require so many betting shops?

Statistics show that in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham employment deprivation is at 22.5%, with 26.3% of the population earning below the living minimum wage in 2021. It’s safe to say that poverty in my home borough is a considerable problem. Yet I was perplexed to see these brightly lit betting shops be filled to brim with people, whose faces were occupied with so much unrealistic joy waiting to see whether they had or hadn’t hit the jackpot. Sadly, many of them most likely left these shops with less money in their pockets than when they entered.

I want to stress that this piece isn’t about shaming or judging those who indulge in gambling from time to time. This piece is also most definitely not about undermining the very real impact of having a gambling problem. But over the years of living and navigating the outer city space in London, I have noticed a very consistent trend around the locality of betting shops in areas that are more deprived.

Research supports the notion that it is often the most deprived areas of the UK that tend of have a higher number of betting shops, compared to more affluent parts of the country. This is also supported by my own experience of working in South Kensington and not seeing one betting shop to being back in Barking immersed in a sea of them. I always ask myself how a 45-minute train journey can result in such a socio-economic disparity?

It is frustrating to see those who are deprived and with little economic stability be taken advantage of by companies who put profit before people. Those who regularly frequent these betting shops are usually those with mental and emotional health issues, people who may be struggling with homelessness, people who due to their gambling problem may put their family’s access to food in jeopardy, and people who are sold false dreams of the riches that they could potentially gain from these spaces. It feels like corporations are using the fact that certain boroughs in London have issues with deprivation and poverty as a way to gain financially from these vulnerable people and communities, because they frankly know it’s easier. I would hope these companies do not have these insidious intentions, but the evidence conveys otherwise.

Mubin Haq, Chief Executive of the Standard Life Foundation stated that “problem gambling is a public health issue, causing serious harm to peoples finances, livelihoods and relationships”. Furthermore, putting these betting shops amongst a community of people that have multiple economic and social challenges often contributes in a profoundly negative way to the lives of these people. While I am lucky to say that I have not had issues of problem gambling present in my life or my immediate family’s life. I have seen the impact it can have on an entire family for generations to come.

Therefore, local authorities and councils have to do better to tackle this issue and spark a necessary change in the way our high streets are currently looking. Living in Barking, I am sadly used to feeling as though my local institutions do not really care about us as its residents.

At least as a child I can recall the local community centres we had – spaces of a communicative nature, that aimed to bring people together and allowed them spaces of safety. These spaces also most importantly served as a vital resource for societies most vulnerable, who often did not have anywhere to turn. These community centres are few and far between nowadays, which is causing a considerable impact on our society.

Living in Britain, especially with the cost-of-living crisis, people are struggling even more now and are being lured by these warm and wickedly situated betting shops. Vulnerable people, not knowing what to do with themselves, use these betting shops and whatever little funds they may have as a form of escapism from the social and economic woes of their lives. Entering that betting shop to manifest a dream of riches that ends oh-so-quickly.

But this isn’t just a Barking problem as I have conveyed. The borough of Newham is said to have a record of 76 betting shops within its borders alone, putting it in the top 20 in the country. But it’s not like people in the local area want them there. A YouGov survey from 2018, highlighted that 73% of people would not want a gambling venue on their “ideal high street”. Therefore, why aren’t local authorities not considering the needs and wants of its people?

It is clear that betting shops are causing considerable harm to communities that already have enough to deal with. I argue that local councils should have greater powers in being able to intervene about the ways our local high streets are set up. This would allow them to become spaces that provide healthy fuel and support for people, not environments that drain them of both their finances and their mental well-being.

There have recently been efforts to reform gambling laws to protect vulnerable users, which is great and necessary. But these efforts are often focused more on online gambling, which while important to tackle, does not recognise the impact of having excessive betting shops on our local high streets can have.

I hope one day that both the central government and local authorities in this country recognise the prominent issue of having excessive betting shops in deprived areas can cause. If you are struggling with a gambling problem, please know that there are resources out there to support you. The National Gambling Support Network are a fantastic free service for those struggling with gambling, please do reach out if and when you need to.



Arbër Gashi is a writer, visual artist and ethnographer born and raised in London to Kosovar-Albanian parents. He has a BA in History and MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture. His academic research has focused on documenting the experiences of Islamic ethnic minority communities in London. He has also extensively researched the long-term effects of Yugoslav colonization practices in Kosovo during the interwar period.

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