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It’s nine o’clock on a drizzly Monday morning in Tottenham, and while the streets are still struggling to wake up, the local William Hill betting shop is very much open for business. Huddled around the betting machines inside there is already a crowd of men, keenly discussing strategy in a number of different languages – none of which are English. For most, though, this isn’t the “fun experience” purported by the Association of British Bookmakers. Instead, it is yet another attempt to change their fortune in a society where they are already likely to be unemployed and strapped for cash.

Scenes such as this at the betting shop in Tottenham are by no means unique, but true across the country. With a continuing recession and unemployment rates at an all time high, everyday more and more people are desperately looking to make quick money. For some, betting shops are that alluring option. Of course few, if any, are actually able to change their fortunes through gambling. After all, betting is not an art, but a mathematical equation; one carefully formulated to always leave the person walking out with less money in his pocket than when he came in.

At a time when most parts of the retail economy are seeing massive declines, the betting shop industry is one of the few that appears to have been largely recession resistant. Unlike other retail outlets, where lower wages tend to decrease spending, betting shops actually seem to profit as people become more desperate. As a result, over the last four years the number of betting shops has actually risen by 10 percent, taking those spots on the high street which used to be occupied by regular retailers.

It is not just the recent expansion of betting shops on the high street that is starting to concern people, but rather


where this new growth is happening. A recent study conducted by the National Center for Social Research has found that betting shops tend to cluster in the poorest areas of cities, in what some describe as predatory behaviour towards the most vulnerable in society. Poorer boroughs, such as Hackney, have as many as 64 betting shops, with up to eight shops

the combination of this with evolving technologies that has made them into what they are today. Whereas betting used to be a limited venture, due to a finite number of events you could bet on, the introduction of satellite television in the 1980s suddenly allowed for races all over the world to be shown at any time. As if this were not enough, thanks to computer technology virtual

machines were first

introduced in 2001, turnover in thebetting industry has leaped four-fold to £29.4 billion a year. Hardly surprising, seeing as a gambler can lose as much as £18,000 an hour, if left to his own devices.

According to one betting shop manager in Hackney, who did not wish to be named: “Over the first few years we had FOBTs we made about 30 percent of our profits from them, then over the next few it rose to about half our profits. Now it’s even higher, up to about 60 percent.”

What makes gambling so destructive to lower-income neighbourhoods is not the fact that the poor spend more money gambling than the rich, but the money they spend represents a much higher proportion of their overall income. Combined with this is the fact that so many of those with a gambling problem are unemployed. The result is that any money spent on gambling in lower-income neighbourhoods is often done at the expense of real needs, rather than as money that a person could afford to lose.

The Hackney manager added: “I’d say that 70 percent of the people who come here are on benefits. Within four or five days of receiving their money, they’ve lost it all in the betting shop. Then what do they do? They end up on the street, selling drugs, stealing - anything to make some fast money.”

on some streets. Such figures represent as many as three times the number that richer boroughs such as Richmond have.

Betting shops have been legal in Britain since the 1960s. While some would argue that these shops have always practiced predatory behaviour towards the vulnerable, it is

races have been introduced - inundating customers with events every five minutes. Another technology, which has revolutionized the betting industry, has been the introduction of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). These are machines that host a whole series of games, from roulette to those you would find on the slots. Since these

The Association of British Bookmakers justifies their presence in such boroughs claiming they provide much needed investment to the local community. Besides the few jobs they create, though, it is very difficult to see how such benefits would ever outweigh the money that is siphoned out of the community through gambling. The result is nothing more than a

community poorer than before the betting shop was there.

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