Council action on Dunbartonshire betting shop concern

Betting shops in Clydebank
Image caption Clydebank town centre has several betting shops in close proximity

The council with Scotland's highest concentration of betting shops is to use new powers to limit the number of new premises in town centres.

West Dunbartonshire Council planning chairman Lawrence O'Neill said a "presumption against" new shops meant they would probably be rejected.

He accused betting shops "of feeding on the vulnerable".

But an industry spokesman said it was heavily regulated and the number of shops had fallen in recent years.

Traditionally, bookmakers have been able to open up at a premises previously occupied by businesses such as banks, on the grounds they provided a financial service.

Councils are about to get new powers, previously approved through a legislative amendment by MSPs at Holyrood, which will allow them to consider future betting shop applications purely on their individual merits.

Asked if he thought the betting shop industry was targeting less well-off areas, Mr O'Neill said places like Clydebank, which has 13 bookmaker shops, had a higher level of multiple deprivation.

He told the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme: "To say it would be feeding on the vulnerable, yeah - that's my opinion."

On the issue of future betting shop applications in West Dunbartonshire - which has the highest number of betting shops per head of population in Scotland - Mr O'Neill said he was not opposed to them outright.

He said: "Each and every one will be taken on its merits.

"The likelihood is, given the policy we have in place currently and the legislation in terms of the amendment, the likelihood is that they wouldn't be granted within town centres."

Bob's story

Image copyright PA

Bob is a recovering gambling addict. What began with the odd bet on football and horseracing led to something more serious.

"Gambling became my be-all and end-all, he said, adding: "It was the most important thing in my life."

Speaking anonymously to BBC Scotland, he recalled: "I ran my own business at the time and I should have been there from eight in the morning. But I hadn't left work until six o'clock that morning.

"I'd go home and sleep till 12 in the day and at 12 o'clock I'd go straight to the bookmakers again and I'd be there till closing or until I lost my money.

"Then I'd go back to work and work through the night and the same routine constantly perpetuated itself."

Bob sought help after being overcome with guilt and remorse at not having the money to by his mother a birthday present, and has not gambled for some time.

Donald Morrison, from the Association of British Bookmakers in Scotland, said the organisation would work with government and councils to make sure the regulations were applied responsibly.

He added: "Betting shops open in busy commercial areas that have high footfall and strong demand and, like any sector, where's demand, there's competition."

Mr Morrison said that since the financial crash, bookmakers had moved into empty town centre locations, contributing business rates and creating jobs.

He added: "Despite the perception that bookies have actually proliferated, the actual numbers of bookmakers in Scotland and across the UK has been in decline in recent years.

"In the last two years or so we've lost 300 shops across the UK, including dozens in Scotland, many of them small operators.

"Nevertheless we're an industry that contributes £110m a year to the economy."