Social Science blog

25 October 2012

High Street Gambling - A Spatial Analysis

This blog aims to highlight different types of research methods that can be used to examine and evaluate social issues and policy. In this guest post Ying Vi explains how she has used quantitative techniques through geographic information systems (GIS) and qualitative interviews to examine the local effects of government policy around the location of betting shops.

The proliferation of betting shops in some of London’s high streets has become a hot topic following the deregulation of the gambling industry through the Gambling Act 2005.  Regulations that once allowed local authorities to decide if new betting shops could open in their areas were removed. This marked the start of the UK government’s ‘free market’ deregulatory approach to gambling (Light, 2007, p632).  Since the deregulation there has been a steep growth in betting shops in some areas, with many anecdotal reports on how these betting shops have formed clusters and affected local businesses and communities.

My research used GIS to carry out spatial analysis around the growth of these clusters. The findings from my spatial analysis support the combined model of Heikkila’s (2000) and Gehrig’s (1996) agglomeration theories; which suggest that clustering of similar businesses will snowball in terms of growth until ‘congestion’ is met.  The results found that new betting shops preferred to open where there were high concentrations of betting shops within a 400m radius (a distance people are willing to walk before taking alternative transport). This finding is further supported by my results which show that in 2009 17.64% of new betting shops opened up in clusters that contained one or more betting shop set up after the deregulation of the betting industry (2007).  This figure rises to 22.04% for 2010 and 48.96% for 2011.

An example of such a cluster can be found around General Gordon Square in Woolwich, South East London. Woolwich town centre has a thriving high street made up of high street chains and home to Greenwich Council’s headquarters.  The town centre has received a large amount of regeneration with the town square (General Gordon Square) being redesigned.  Since the deregulation there has been a steady growth of betting shops around General Gordon Square.   In the photos below we can see Paddy Power, Coral and Betfred lining one side of the square.  




Woolwich Gordon Square - Photo courtesy of Ying Vi 


 Woolwich Gordon Square - Photo courtesy of Ying Vi 

Map of Woolwich Betting Shop Cluster - Created by Ying Vi. © Crown Copyright 2012. An Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service.

In the above map the red dots indicate the location of betting shops. The blue dot indicates the site of Ladbrooks which is closed due to a fire.The building outline which is slightly more pink than the others: the whole basement and first floor of this former bank has been taken over by two betting shops, this means a whole side of the square is now occupied by betting shops.

The findings of my research are stark and indicate that if left unchecked these clusters could keep growing and potentially change the nature of some of our high streets. However, the community interviews provide anecdotal evidence that supports Heikkila’s (2000) ‘congestion’ element of the combined model. This states that clustering will be haltered by a congestion effect – here in the form of lack of vacant buildings or local resistance.  The deregulatory approach by the government to the gambling industry, however, does not support local authorities and communities if they wish to resist the changing nature of the high street, due to the opening of new betting shops in their areas.

Putting the theories and the number crunching aside, only when speaking to the local communities does the real impact of the deregulation become apparent.  With no powers to stop new betting shops opening up in their areas, local authorities and communities are left feeling helpless as the betting shops take over local pubs and banks.From my interviews one thing is clear; many members of the community want the government to return some powers to the local authorities in order to stem the growth of the betting shop clusters that have formed.  

Recently The House of Commons, Culture, Media and Sport select Committee held an enquiry into the Gambling Act 2005 in July 2011.  On the 23 July 2012 it published it’s report “The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking?". The report mentioned three possible causes of the clustering of betting shops on the high street.  The first being the planning class betting shops are in makes it difficult for local authorities to reject any applications locally.  At the moment betting shops are in the same category as banks, pubs and retail and any change in use is automatic. Making betting shops sui generis (a class of their own), would allow local authorities powers to decide and control betting shops opening. (House of Commons, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, July 2012, p21).The second possible cause mentioned was the removal of the demand criterion, and the third cause being the limitation of B2 (slot) machines permitted in each betting premise. 

Of the three causes and possible solutions, the report makes one final recommendation as a solution to the clustering problem on the high street.  It states that clustering of betting shops is a local issue and suggests local authorities should be given powers to allow betting shops more than the current limit of B2 machines per premises if they believe that will assist them in dealing with the issue of clustering (House of Commons, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, July 2012, p71).  Instead of recommending the need for tighter controls the committee has chosen to recommend further relaxation of current legislation. 

Bibliography and related resources:

Dispatches, August 2012. Britain’s High Street Gamble, Channel 4, [online].

Gehrig, T., 1996. Competing markets, European Economic Review Vol. 42(1998) pp277-310.

Geofutures, July 2012. Analysing Britain’s Book Makers for Dispatches, [online]. 

Heikkila (2000) Economics of Planning. Center for Urban Policy Research. Chapters 3 and 4

House of Commons, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, July 2012. The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking?, [online]

Light, R., 2007. The Gambling Act 2005: Regulatory containment and market control, The Modern Law Review Limited 2007, 70(4) pp626-653.

Ying Vi has worked in regional spatial planning in London and has just completed an MSC in Spatial Planning at UCL, she can be contacted by email: [email protected]




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