Councillors on licensing committee said ‘Little Vegas’ would contribute to gambling addiction issues in the area, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
Waltham Forest Council has refused to let a gambling arcade open in a deprived part of Leyton because it would “pose clear harm to vulnerable adults”.
Chongie Entertainment applied to turn the former Bright Sparks Homestore in High Road, Leyton, into a gambling arcade called Little Vegas, open from 8am until midnight every day.
At a licensing committee meeting on Wednesday, 14th July, the company insisted “adult gaming centres” (AGCs) such as Little Vegas do not contribute to “problem gambling” like betting shops do.
However, after listening to opposed residents, councillors rejected the application, arguing the business “remains – essentially – a source of gambling” and therefore poses harm.
Laura Fisher, who has lived in the Bakers Arms area for five years, told councillors she was “hugely concerned” because more than 400 homeless people were being housed in the area.
She said: “The local food bank has received referrals of people who can’t afford food due to gambling addictions. I fear another casino would be tempting, especially if they will be offering hot drinks.
“Due to the pandemic, unemployment levels have increased 218% in the area. I’m extremely concerned that the proposed site will take advantage of this deprivation.”
Resident of seven years, Adam Bruntlett, said Bakers Arms was “victim of the encroachment of more and more gambling outlets”, which he argued brought an increase in anti-social behaviour.
He said: “Bakers Arms is a run-down area in need of regeneration in the form of high-quality shops. Another betting [outlet] brings absolutely no value to the area and will be detrimental.”
Three police officers attended the meeting but were not permitted to speak as the Metropolitan Police had not made a formal representation in advance.
Byron Evans, representing Chongie, insisted that in his 30-plus years of experience he had seen a “miniscule” number of incidents linking AGCs to “potential problems with vulnerable people”.
He told the committee: “Betting shops can have up to four games machines, on top of over the counter betting, which has no limit on the amount of money you can spend.
“You can go into one of the betting shops in Leyton and just sit and watch TV. There’s no reason to just go and sit in an AGC.
“People have perhaps a genuine misunderstanding of how an AGC operates. Staff are trained to circulate on the shop floor […] and would intervene with customers should there be any particular reason.
“There are many tell-tale signs if people are suffering from gambling-related problems and staff are trained to be constantly looking for these types of behavioural patterns.
“Staff can see if they can offer them any help and there’s the potential to exclude people if they identify themselves as having an issue for six to twelve months or even after that.”
After deliberating, councillors decided today (Monday) to reject the application, citing their concern for the vulnerable adults of the area.
They wrote that, despite hearing evidence about Chongie’s policy to refuse service to problem gamblers, they felt “it was not clear how the applicant would effectively identify” them.
They added: “Although an adult gaming centre may be different in terms of its clientele and layout, it remains – essentially – a source of gambling.
“The sub-committee considered that granting it a licence would not reasonably be consistent with the licensing objective, as it would pose clear harm to vulnerable adults.”