To the surprise of some UK residents, the sun rose in the east as usual on Tuesday morning, contradicting the apocalyptic claims that accompanied Monday’s court ruling preventing Newham Council from blocking the installation of a new Paddy Power betting shop. The Council made headlines in February by rejecting the Irish bookies’ bet shop application based on claims that more than half the shop’s revenue would come from fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The Council had argued that this contravened a 2005 Gambling Act requirement for shops to earn at least half their revenue from “traditional” over-the-counter wagering.
Undaunted, Paddy appealed the Council’s ruling, and on Monday, Thames Magistrates’ Court sided with the bookies. District Judge Paul Goldspring rejected the Council’s argument that the addition of one more betting shop would cause Syria-like carnage to break out on the east London borough’s streets. Goldspring said the Council had failed to prove “that the granting of the license would not be reasonably consistent with the objective of preventing crime and disorder.” Goldspring found it “significant” that the local police hadn’t objected to the application and said that ‘in light of the evidence before me,” the Council’s rejection of Paddy’s application had been “wrong.”
Paddy was magnanimous in victory, pledging to donate the £33.9k in costs it was awarded via the decision to Newham charities and saying it remained committed to maintaining a “close working relationship and open dialogue” with all local councils. But Paddy also welcomed “the fact that the confusion surrounding primary activity has been clarified, with Newham conceding during the proceedings that the 2005 Gambling Act relates only to whether an operator provides genuine facilities for betting.”
Newham Council was understandably bummed, with Councilor Ian Corbett saying the ruling “exposed a serious problem” with the “toothless” 2005 Gambling Act, which “will not prevent the march of the high street bookmakers.” The Council hasn’t ruled out seeking a judicial review of Goldspring’s ruling. Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy criticized the ruling, saying it would act as a “red rag to bookmakers to go for it, and take the opportunity to move into high streets up and down the country in even bigger numbers.” Newham already has some 80 betting shops within its borders – the third highest rate in the country – but as it’s been pointed out, with one in eight high street shops already sitting vacant, bookies are only filling a void other retailers appear reluctant to enter.
The Newham v. Paddy tiff had been viewed as a test case by those staunchly opposed to the spread of FOBTs, which are the latest in a long line of technical innovations to be saddled with the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ epithet. The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) praised Goldspring’s ruling, saying it was based on “empirical evidence and common sense.”