Gaming machines on bookmakers' premises have been increasing in number since regulations preventing their installation were removed in 2005; however residents in certain areas are voicing concern that they may effectively be providing late night casino services that are damaging their communities.
Westminster has a particular problem, home as it is to London's Chinatown which now has eight bookmakers open until midnight with five more applying for licences to extend their opening hours in the same way. There's a strong local feeling that the opening hours are aimed squarely at London's Chinese community, many of whom work in the catering trade on late shifts and have limited English language skills and therefore find gambling a welcome respite from the pressures of living in the UK.
Chinatown has the only NHS clinic in the entire country that specialises in problem gambling – and it has fifteen referrals per week and a two month waiting list. Protest groups such as High Street First could have a point when they suggest that increased consumer debt and corresponding rises in crime are a real risk.
Amazingly, local councils lack the power to prevent bookmakers opening. They come under the same planning law category as restaurants, banks and estate agents, though if groups like High Street First have their way then local residents will be able to limit the number of betting shops in any given district.