The recent 'Back Your Local Bookie' campaign by the Association of British Bookmakers has successfully highlighted positive stories from staff and customers about their local betting shops. There is a long history of betting shops in many communities, and I appreciate that they make a significant tax contribution. I believe that staff who work in betting shops should be supported and I have consistently backed efforts to improve the safety of UK betting shops for staff and customers.
The success and sustainability of our high streets is also important. For generations, high streets have been at the heart of our communities - centres that bring people together and define the character of a place. However, in recent years the economic downturn and changing shopping patterns have left our high streets under pressure.
Though I recognise that many people enjoy gambling as a leisure pursuit, I am concerned about problem gambling and particularly the role of high-speed gaming machines. Evidence suggests that Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are highly addictive, particularly to problem gamblers and have become a problem for communities that are often struggling to cope with under-investment and high unemployment.
The Conservative Government is reviewing the maximum stakes and prizes for gaming machines; the number and location of gaming machines; and social responsibility measures to protect players from gambling-related harm. I welcome this review and have long believed local communities should have more power to shape their high streets.
I hope that the Government will carefully consider all views that were raised in its recent consultation on this issue.