Westminster city

Westminster City to curb opening hours and set ‘gambling vulnerability zones’

In a new clampdown on local gambling businesses, Westminster City Council has introduced a new policy to protect vulnerable groups and address alleged criminality. 

The first of its kind in the UK and influenced by a ‘data driven approach’ according to the council, the updated rules will ‘curb’ opening hours for local betting and gaming premises. 

By combining these opening restrictions with newly established ‘gambling vulnerability zones’, the council hopes to ensure bookmaker and casino venues in the City ‘operate in a way that reduces their risk of harm and wider impact on the community’.

The Council did note, however, the financial contribution betting and gaming makes to the local economy – as the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has often noted, the national betting industry generates £4.5bn in taxes annually.

“Betting shops, casinos and other gambling premises play a role in Westminster’s night-time economy and some venues attract thousands of tourists into the city every year,” said Councillor Aicha Less of the Labour Party.

“However, during a cost-of-living crisis, people’s budgets are being stretched more and more so using gambling as an alternative source of income is a real danger.

Adding that the Council is supportive of local bookmakers and casinos and their contribution to the City’s economy, policymakers remained steadfast in their belief that premises ‘must not become a source of crime’ or ‘be used to support crime’.

Statistics show that Westminster has one of the worst crime rates out of London’s 32 Boroughs, with 189 offences permitted per 1,000 people, including theft, violence/assaults and drugs – although it is unclear how much of these are linked in any way to betting venues. 

“We need rules to protect the most vulnerable from gambling-related harms and to prevent gambling being a source of crime and disorder,” Less, who is also the Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Protection, continued.

“Our new policy aims to strike a balance, allowing gambling premises to operate fairly and responsibly, while also putting safeguards in place to protect residents and visitors.”

According to the City Council, the debut policy is the maximum that can be done under existing legislation – although this could change depending on the decisions made by policymakers just under a mile away at Whitehall. 

Having been repeatedly delayed, often due to political chaos which has seen two leadership elections this year, the somewhat stabilisation of the UK government under Rishi Sunak has seen the publication of the Gambling Act review White Paper again become a possibility this year. 

The review is now being overseen by Paul Scully, Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam, who became the fifth Minister responsible for the legislative overhaul since proceedings began in December 2020.

SBC News Westminster City to curb opening hours and set ‘gambling vulnerability zones’