A North London street with six gambling venues including two casinos within the space of 600 metres is “fuelling addiction” and taking vulnerable residents’ last few pounds, according to locals. Protests have already taken place to fight against plans to open another high street casino in Harlesden, Brent, over fears vulnerable people are being targeted.
Between Craven Park Road and the top of the High Street – a 600-metre stretch of road – there are currently six premises all vying to separate residents, many of whom are already poor, from their cash. Four of these are bookies – two Ladbrokes, one William Hill and one Paddy Power – as well as two adult gaming centres run by Silvertime Amusements Ltd.
Harlesden resident Michael Haye, 65, doesn’t gamble himself but says it’s a very common pastime for many in the area. He said: “People do gamble around here, heavily. I might do [the lottery] sometimes but that’s the most I do. I’ll spend 50p or £1 on it but I’m not a gambler, but there’s a lot around here who are.”
Michael points to high levels of unemployment in the area being a key factor driving people to gamble but thinks the financially vulnerable are being sucked in by the gaming companies. He said: “People want to earn something, no matter how small it really is. People take chances just to try and earn something for the minute or for the day.”
He added: “A lot of people around here are unemployed so there’s really nothing else for them to do. You don’t find a lot of these types of gambling places in some areas but you do always find them in lower income areas.”
Residents and councillors took to the streets earlier this month to protest plans by Silvertime to open another high street casino, which, if approved, would become the seventh gambling site in this small pocket of Brent. This has stoked fears that it would encourage further addiction and increase antisocial behaviour.
Michael also wouldn’t support the opening of another site. He said: “I don’t support them period, why should I support another one? None of the premises do anything different anyway, they’re all the same. If there’s more, it will encourage you to go into another one and fuel that addiction.”
Jack, 60, too thinks that the sites are targeting vulnerable people in more deprived towns. He said: “It’s a poor area, when you go to rich areas there aren’t bookies on every corner. They are just trying to get the last little bit of money people have.”
He added: “A lot of the druggies hang around outside the places too, that’s where they go and do their thing. It really does encourage crime and antisocial behaviour, drugs and gambling go hand-in-hand. There’s no point in opening another one, I’m shocked they are even trying to. There’s six gambling places and only one library, opening another library would be much more beneficial.”
Last month’s protest was organised by three Labour councillors from Harlesden and Kensal Green, who, alongside community groups, have already fought off two previous attempts by Silvertime to open similar gambling centres at the site. Cllr Jumbo Chan, Cllr Matt Kelcher and Cllr Mili Patel said in a joint statement: “Harlesden, which suffers from high levels of deprivation and household debt, does not need another gambling facility, particularly when there are two other such centres just a few minutes’ walk away.”
They added: “We fully support the community in its opposition to these plans which will bring no benefit to our area and undermine the great progress that has been made in attracting new family businesses, such as the recently opened Nilly’s Flower shop and Kaleo café, to Park Parade”.
Harlesden has been identified as an area with a high concentration of poverty which increased during the pandemic, according to a 2020 report published by the council. Currently, a quarter of residents in the area live below the poverty line.
If the application to open another adult gaming centre is approved, it will mean that more than 3 per cent of shop fronts on the High Street are dedicated to gambling, pawn brokers or pay-day loans, according to local councillors.
Local business owner Mustafa, 25, used to gamble when he was younger but stopped. He said: “If I still gambled I’d be bankrupt. You can never win in these places anyway. Why do they want to open another one? Is there really that many people around here that gamble? When I see people around here who are going to the casino and the bookies, it’s mostly vulnerable people.”
He added: “If it was up to me I would ban gambling, people can lose their life savings in one day. It’s very bad. If you only have £50 in your pocket, you’re going to try and do what you can to turn it into more. You think you’re going to have some luck today and before you know it, it’s all gone.”
Cllr Kelcher believes that granting permission would “exacerbate local problems”. He said: “Adult gaming centres prey on the vulnerable by offering multiple gambling opportunities to people with only a few coins in their pockets.”
He added: “There is no evidence that local people see the opening of another high street casino as vital to the community. In fact, the level of objection to the scheme would indicate the opposite.[…] it appears that Harlesden has been targeted by Silvertime precisely because there are so many local vulnerable people.”
A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “Our members are proud of the role they play on hard-pressed high streets. Betting shops in the UK support 46,000 jobs, contribute £1bn a year in tax to the Treasury and another £60m in business rates to local councils.”
They added: “Meanwhile, a study by ESA Retail found that 89 per cent of betting shop customers combine their trip to the bookies with visits to other local businesses. We are encouraged by the latest figures from the Gambling Commission that showed the rate of problem gambling was 0.3 per cent – down from 0.4 per cent the year previous.
“The BGC’s largest members pledged an additional £100m of funding over four years for Research, Education and Treatment services to tackle gambling harm to be administered by GambleAware. BGC members have gone further and will have provided £110 million to GambleAware by the end of March 2024.”