New betting shop opens on Wood Green High Road: What is the deal?

When the Shout! night-club across the road from Wood Green Underground Station and beside Hollywood Green Cinema (now Vue) closed some time ago, I didn't have much hope that it would be replaced by something of benefit to the local area. I was pleasantly surprised then, when Sainsbury's Local, a smaller version of the large grocery store chain, put up a sign. I did notice, after the store opened, that a smaller portion of the old club still remained covered with board. I didn't really know what was going to be put there, and didn't waste a lot of brain matter thinking over it. It was only the size of about two doorways, after all...

Today the boards are gone, and a shiny new green, white, and gold sign is up as a Paddy Power betting shop celebrates its opening day.

As if we didn't already have a few gambling establishments in close vicinity to the Parkside Malvern area. Paddy Power now has two shops on the High Road, as does William Hill. Labrokes has five(!): one beside Wood Green Underground Station and Barclay's Bank, one at the upper end of the High Road, near the Morrison's grocery store and Oxfam charity shop, one at the lower end of the High Road near the Cancer Research charity shop and the Turnpike Lane Underground Station, another right behind the shopping mall across from our very own Hornsey Park Road, and finally one at the Turnpike Lane end of Alexandra Road. Our High Road also features a Jenningsbet, a Betterbet, an Agora Gaming, a Prestige Amusements, and a Quicksilver, to say nothing of the Mecca Bingo Hall right around the corner from the new Paddy Power.

In a column for the Evening Standard on February 2 of this year, Minister for Higher Education and Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, criticized the 2005 Gambling Act under the title 'Our high streets don't need the Las Vegas effect.' While his campaign against gambling in the months leading up to his re-election is admirable, and while I believe there is a note of sincerity to his message, I can't help observing that he actually voted in favour of the act. I recently discussed this with a Noel Park Labour Councillor, James Stewart, during his election campaign, and he was slightly taken aback by my knowledge of this fact. Seeking to rescue the reputation of Lammy, he explained that while the Gambling Act dealt with the super-casinos and internet gambling, they left certain loopholes allowing for more of the smaller gambling shops. This fits what Lammy said in his article. It appears, then, that Lammy had a change of mind, which I believe is legitimate. He has confirmed to me in writing that he will oppose future applications for gambling licenses and will seek to attack the gambling problem in his constituency. But his constituency is Tottenham, and we are in Noel Park.

The only campaign against the gambling establishments in Noel Park that I have heard anything about was by a former Liberal Democrat Councillor, Fiyaz Mughal. I spoke with him in person about the gambling issue and requested that he send me any material he had concerning his campaign, as I would gladly support it. I never received a word from him. Apparently he passed my details on to a prospective Lib-Dem candidate who, although he didn't have anything against gambling himself, gave a few pointers to benefit my campaign (at the time, I didn't have one; I thought Mr. Mughal did). As I have already mentioned, I spoke with James Stewart on this issue and he said that he and his team would oppose new shops applying for licenses. When I saw the new Paddy Power, I sought to find the dates and times for the councillors surgeries. It is weeks after the election, and the apologetic lady at Council customer services had to inform me that the three councillors were still working out dates for the surgeries. I was therefore given their mobile phone numbers. Each phone went directly to a 'Sorry, the person you are calling is not available, so please call again' message. An ominous sign of things come?   

I believe the people of our Association have, on the whole, lost faith in the local government. We have learned that if you want to get something started, you have to get it started yourself. Haringey Council is not going to take the initiative. Liberal Democrat MP for Noel Park, Lynne Featherstone and Labour Councillors for Noel Park, James Stewart, Alan Strickland, and Pauline Gibson must hear our voice and see our action. We must do something: a petition, individual letters... anything within legal and moral bounds, to keep new gambling establishments from opening, and even to close those in existence. Any such effort must be of necessity completely bi-partisan, involving all who are willing to participate. If the number of gambling shops in our area does not make you want to be involved, there are a few good reasons I now give to encourage you to act.

1. Gambling Establishments encourage poor handling of money. This should be an especially important point for a country limping out of recession and still somewhat unstable economically. If you win at it, it is at someone's expense. If you lose at it, it is to someone's benefit. Either way, there is always a looser. We condemn the mismanagement of money by the government, banks, and businesses, but do we have a different standard for ourselves and others like us?

2. Gambling impoverishes the citizens of society. They take advantage of the poor and benefit from them. This was noted by David Lammy in his article. He says, 'The pattern is clear: the gambling industry is targeting deprived areas, saturating them with more outlets...This is a barely concealed attempt to profit from poverty.' You do not see the wealthy and prosperous in the betting shops, nor the good upstanding citizens of moderate means, but rather the poor, the unemployed, the disabled even, and, (could it be?), some who are in the country illegally. The African slave trade took advantage of the tribal leaders' thirst for alcohol and fascination with guns to accomplish their purposes. The gambling business takes advantage of people's lack of money, their need for it, and their inability to get a lot of it quickly and with as little work as possible. The poor people find that after a gambling session, they only get poorer, but it is addictive and requires no manual labour and is therefore attractive. Gambling establishments thrive on poverty and poverty thrives on the gambling establishments.

3. Gambling establishments attract the criminals of society and contribute to juvenile delinquency. Again, Lammy says in his article, 'In Haringey alone, in the past two years, there have been almost 750 public-order offences related to gambling premises - more than one a day. It cannot be right, either, that police time is wasted on such avoidable, petty crime.'  On the Turnpike Lane end of the High Road, William Hill, Paddy Power, and Ladbrokes are used as the gathering place for a local Somali gang, the members of which I have heard using violently aggressive language, have seen behaving rowdily, and have heard asking passersby if they want to buy 'skunk', a strong variety of the Class B drug Cannabis.

Prospective but unsuccessful Liberal Democrat Councillor Viv Ross shared his concerns with me. He said, 'I have noticed that there seem to be many betting shops in the area which are not adhering to at least one of the three principles of the Gambling Act 2005. These are 1. to prevent crime, 2. to be fair and open and 3. to protect children and vulnerable people. There appear to be several shops in the High Street which allow in people who are clearly under 18, or who do not check the ages of their clientele.'

The police already have enough problems where the new betting shop is opening. Drunks, beggars, disorderly school children, and the crowds that go to McDonald's, the Vue, and the Wetherspoons pub. It is just up the road from Gladstone Avenue where physical violence, including murder, involves 25 people out of 1000, compared to the national average of 15 out of 1000. The police have enough on their hands without having to bother with the problems our newest gambling establishment will attract.

4. Gambling establishments detract from the rights of society, namely, the right of the local community to decide the character and cultural output of their area. As Lammy says in his article, 'What is in question is whether communities can take ownership of their own high streets.' Gambling establishments prevent better businesses from providing better jobs and from creating better environments in which outsiders can safely shop and residents can live. Neighbourhoods don't want to be characterized by poverty, crime, corruption, and drugs, but those are things a lot of people think when they hear 'Wood Green' or 'Turnpike Lane' or 'Haringey.'

So what can be done? Lammy says that gambling establishments 'should no longer be allowed to apply for space under the same pretences as any other financial service' and should be able to limit their numbers as they do with bars and pubs. Viv Ross wrote me saying, 'Any campaign should include Trading Standards officers from Haringey Council to do spot checks in premises for under-aged persons. When the Gambling Commission did spot checks last year, 98% of betting shops tested failed to check ages of clientele and
a young person was allowed to gamble.  It is also a legal requirement that any money gambled is returned to the young person which would be very awkward for a betting shop to administer.'

Regardless of what people think about gambling as a practice, it goes without question that there are too many gambling establishments in our area, that future license applications should be automatically refused and furthermore, that the 'problem' shops that attract drug-dealing gangs and contribute to the delinquency of minors be closed and replaced by enterprises that contribute better to the benefit of the community.

The media always talks about the problems of poverty and crime in London. Why not start dealing with these issues by cutting down on gambling establishments? This is our problem. Let's do what we can to fix it and to make our community a better place.

Ideas are welcomed.

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