Harriet Harman has said the last Labour government “made a mistake” in passing the Gambling Act 2005.
The former Cabinet Minister told Dispatches that she has received “the most heart-rending letters and emails and calls that I've ever had in thirty years of being an MP” over the ‘clustering’ of betting shops that give people access to roulette machines known as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.
The Channel 4 documentary claimed that a growing number of betting shops clustered in areas of poverty and high unemployment - in areas such as Deptford High Street where there are ten betting shops - each with four FOBT machines - in the space of less than a square mile.
Ms Harman, MP for the inner London constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, said: "If we had known then what we know now, we wouldn't have allowed this, because it's not just ruining the High Street it's ruining people's lives.”
The Association of British Bookmakers said the number of betting shops – 8,500 across the country - has remained stable for the last decade.
“Like any retailer, betting operators look at footfall, demand, location, rental rates and competitive presence when deciding where to open a new shop,” the ABB said.
“Up to 80% of new shops are opened in vacant units, providing jobs and investment that would otherwise be absent.
“The industry works hard with local councils, key organisations including the police, residents and businesses to ensure any specific concerns are properly addressed.”
The ABB also said:
“The Gambling Commission Prevalence Study states clearly that there is no evidence of a causal link between Electronic Gaming Machines and problem gambling. The survey found that only 4% of adults who gamble use LBO machines, 25% use them once a month and 45% use machines less than once a month.
“The betting sector is committed to helping problem gamblers, and raise about £5 million in voluntary contributions from the gambling industry each year for treatment and prevention of gambling addiction. This is likely to rise to £7 million by 2014.”
A DCMS spokesman told Dispatches: "The government has no plans to amend the gambling act unless there is clear evidence of a need to do so."