A FREE counselling service to help out gamblers in Wigan will start this week.
The one-to-one sessions - offered by experts in conjunction with Wigan Council - are in response to concerns that the economic downturn is pushing people into gambling debt.
Wigan borough has more betting shops per head of population than anywhere else in Greater Manchester, recent figures suggest.
But council officials have vowed to help those in need.
Coun Terry Halliwell, portfolio holder for customer transformation at Wigan Council, said: “Since the welfare reforms were introduced last year we’ve done a lot of work to prevent residents from getting into debt.
“This has included signposting them to responsible lenders such as credit unions and helping them manage their money better with free courses. It’s not just loan sharks we’re targeting; we’ve also started working closely with betting shops to ensure they’re operating responsibly and at the beginning of this year we passed a motion calling on the government to ban Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) altogether.”
Wigan has almost 60 betting shops with the town centre itself accounting for seven, including five clustered between Wigan Wallgate station and the Grand Arcade.
Changes to planning laws now mean local authorities will soon have greater authority to prevent more betting shops from opening.
Under current regulations, betting chains are not required to submit planning applications for new shops to open.
The changes will class firms as a different business type, meaning planning applications will be needed, which can then be assessed by council officials.
A recent national survey from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) argued that increased availability of online gambling opportunities has led to an increase in problem gambling over recent years. The figures showed that 68 per cent of men and 61 per cent of women had participated in gambling activity.
The new service will be delivered by Beacon Counselling on behalf of leading gambling help organisation GamCare.
Coun Halliwell added: “This new counselling service will complement our existing work perfectly, helping problem gamblers and their families deal with the effects of gambling. I’m really pleased that we’ve decided to launch the service here in Wigan Borough, as I’m sure many of our residents will be.”
The move has been welcomed by fairer gambling campaigner and Wigan resident, Adrian Parkinson.
Mr Parkinson who has been campaigning for the restriction of FOBTS on behalf of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.
He said: “It’s commendable and is something a lot of local authorities are now starting to do, but it is born out of a situation where there is currently a complete lack of support services for those with a gambling addiction.
“Other councils are really getting to grips with this issue and Liverpool Public Health Observatory has just published year long research which shows that the main problem is FOBTs and betting shops and they have advised local government to lobby ministers for stake reduction on FOBTs as part of the overall solution to the rising problem.
“Projects like this will help people, but it will not stem the flow of those getting addicted to FOBTs in betting shops which are easily accessible in every town centre, especially Wigan which now has more betting shops than Chorley, Warrington and Bolton.
“Councils around the country are now liaising with our campaign after the success we had with the Sustainable Communities Act calling for betting shops to be put back in their own use class - a measure the government has now conceded. I do commend Wigan Council on this initiative, but at the same time urge them to back our campaign in dealing with one of the major causes of problem gambling, as well as helping those who have fallen victim to it.”