The Grosvenor Casino in Leeds, UK, is at the center of a storm of controversy after the city council voted to allow the casino to install gaming machines outside.
The council’s licensing committee approved extending the casino’s license to include the outdoor smoking zone, even though one council member objected in writing.
Gamble while you smoke
The Grosvenor Casino applied to “increase gambling facilities” in the smokers’ shelter outside the ground floor of the facility. Smoking is not permitted inside any buildings in the UK, apart from private homes. The smoking area at the casino is not licensed for gaming.
The council’s decision means that the Grosvenor can now install two gaming machines in the smoking zone, with an option to increase this to four.
Paddy Whur, representing the casino, told the licensing committee: “There would be no partition to separate the licensed and unlicensed area of the smoking area. [The casino] does not anticipate introducing any more than four machines to the area. This will start with two and could rise to four if there is demand.”
He added that the other casinos had made similar applications without any problem: “None of the responsible authorities have had concerns with the application we have made.”
Neil Buckley, chair of the licensing committee, said they had visited the Grosvenor Casino on receipt of the application to view the layout of the building and external smoking zone.
He told the meeting that the Grosvenor had an alternative smoking area on a first-floor balcony. This would remain unlicensed. Players could smoke there without being near gaming machines.
On this basis, the committee approved the license extension.
No respite for problem gamblers
Councilor Karen Bruce, however, wrote to the committee ahead of their meeting to object to the license extension. She was concerned that problem gamblers who wanted to step away from the gaming room for a break could be tempted to keep playing.
She wrote: “While there is only a small amount of information available here, it would seem that the proposal could present a number of problems.
“By placing gambling equipment in outer areas where people may be cooling off from gambling, where people cannot escape from the machines is unacceptable. [It] could contribute to problem gambling, which has knock-on effects in lots of areas including impacts on crime and untold impacts on children and families.”
The committee had received no other objections, including from local residents.
Record number of problem gamblers
The city council commissioned the University of Leeds in 2016 to research the issue of problem gambling in the city. The report revealed that around 8% of the Leeds population are problem gamblers, or at risk. The UK national average is 6%.
The study estimated that this amounted to a total of some 63,000 gamblers in a city of 785,000 people. Leeds is a prosperous city, but also has high unemployment and some of the UK’s most deprived neighborhoods.
Researchers were not surprised to find this correlation.
The local newspaper, the Yorkshire Post, reported in early March that Councilor Gerry Harper had visited a betting shop in the city center. There he watched a problem gambler repeatedly feeding a fixed-odds betting terminal.
Harper said: “He was there for about 20 minutes and must have lost £300 ($395). The staff didn’t say anything to him.”
Licensing officers routinely visit betting shops in the city and said staff often failed to help problem gamblers.
They said: “We went into one where someone was kicking the machine because he had lost so much money. The staff are supposed to be trained to see someone who appears to be distressed by gambling. All they can physically do is give them a leaflet.”
Where is the promised clinic?
The government announced in November 2018 it was to fund a specialized gambling addiction clinic in Leeds, only the second of its kind. A clinic has been open in London for many years.
However, the opening of the new NHS Northern Gambling Clinic has seemingly been delayed. It was set to open this month, but the opening has now been pushed back to an unspecified date in the summer.
Matthew Gaskell, clinical lead for the new clinic and the consultant psychologist for addiction services, said: “We’ll be reaching people from Hull, Sheffield, Bradford, Harrogate, York, and everywhere in between. Along with our partners, we can’t wait to get started in Leeds in the summer.”
The location of the clinic has also not yet been revealed. But problem gamblers will be able to access walk-in appointments and one-to-one support.
Gambling charity GambleAware is providing direct funding for the NHS Northern Gambling Clinic. The local NHS trust and a private company called GamCare will actually run it. The annual running cost is estimated at £1.2m ($1.5m) a year. The clinic plans to open satellite outreach units across the north of England once it is fully up and running.