Gambling shops' grip on Wigan town centre has created fear and anger
The number of betting shops in the town centre has struck fear into Wiganers, with one self-confessed gambler calling it a “disgrace”
There are now eight gambling spots in the heart of the borough, after a BoyleSports opened last year to replace a coffee shop which was once a bank.
This comes after a Health and Well-being Board meeting in Manchester highlighted a correlation between areas of deprivation and betting shop locations.
There are fears that with Christmas around the corner, the cost-of-living crisis raging and the temptation of gambling that the World Cup brings, there could be vulnerable people and families that lose out.
“I think it’s a disgrace because mums and dads are going into betting shops and they can’t give to their children if they waste money betting,” Dennis Ashcroft said.
“The council should look at how much is spent on gambling in Wigan.
“I have a bet on the TV from time to time but the problem is the fruit machines – they were created by the mob and they’re still going on today.”
His wife Sylvia added that “too many children are living in poverty” and that something needed to be done.
She described her terror at seeing so many gambling spots where Market Place meets Wallgate – which has four bookies within 30 seconds walk of each other.
A charity has warned of a triple-whammy on the horizon – the World Cup, cost-of-living crisis and Christmas.
Less disposable income leads to more desperation to spend at Christmas and the temptation of gambling as a "quick route to wealth”, the Beacon Counselling Trust, a charity which helps addicts, warned.
Meanwhile, a gambling heatmap revealed a correlation between deprived areas and betting shops in Manchester. In towns outside the city centre like Wigan, betting shops are a regular feature.
Almost one in five under-16s in Wigan – 11,311 – are living in low-income families, latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions revealed.
According to Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s (GMPA) data released earlier this year, more than 30,000 people in the area were in receipt of universal credit, one of the highest in Greater Manchester.
Yet despite all this, there are six gambling spots within a 60-second walk of each other in the town centre. This is something that could prove too tempting for some in more desperate financial state, some residents believe.
A mum whose son was plunged into debt says he was sucked in by online free bets and even had a friend who lost £20,000 who fell into a similar spiral.
“My son had a problem, he would do the free bets which started him off,” she said. “You never would’ve noticed it unless we asked him about it.
“I did help him out and it is all fine now. But I was shocked when I found out the scale of the problem.
“It was the free bets that got him into it. One of his friends actually owed about £20,000.
“It’s all very scary. I think a lot of people took it up during lockdown and got hooked.”
The presence of betting shops in the town centre is something Janet Hughes, on a visit with her family to the area from Haydock, thought was “dangerous”.
“I can see them all around here, I think it’s really dangerous [having them so available],” she said.
“It is worrying, especially with it being online now as well. It is a worry, plenty of people bet their wages.”
Janet was not alone in spotting the growing issue of online betting. Mum Vicky Drury described seeing the occasional person on betting apps on their phone, which made her question how many people were doing this “out of sight”.
“I don’t see anyone that struggles with it personally, but I have noticed more people doing it online. You could be in a public place doing it.
“So there could be more doing it online and you just don’t notice it.”
Despite these issues being raised, the number of betting shops has actually decreased in the last five years, the Betting and Gaming Council claims.
The body’s drive to increase safety in gambling will be driven by the government review into this UK-wide issue.
A Betting and Gaming Council spokesman said: “Our members are proud of the role they play on hard-pressed high streets. Betting shops in the UK support 46,000 jobs, contribute £1bn a year in tax to the Treasury and another £60m in business rates to local councils.
“Meanwhile, a study by ESA Retail found that 89 per cent of betting shop customers combine their trip to the bookies with visits to other local businesses. According to the Gambling Commission betting shop numbers have dropped in Manchester by 35.5 per cent from 124 in 2017 to 80 in 2022.
“We are encouraged by the latest figures from the Gambling Commission that showed the rate of problem gambling was 0.3 per cent – down from 0.4 per cent the year previous. The BGC’s largest members committed to spend an additional £100m for the treatment of problem gambling, including treatment for a minority of those who are suffering from serious addiction, between 2019 and 2023.
“We are committed to going even further and have strongly supported the Government’s Gambling Review as an opportunity to further drive change.”
David Proctor, assistant director for planning and regeneration at Wigan Council, said: “Wigan Council always seeks to maintain a suitable balance of businesses in the town centre, as far as the powers we have allow us to do so. The current situation in the town centre is there are four betting shops that are geographically spread out, along with a wide range of other businesses.
“If you are struggling with the effects of gambling, we would encourage you to seek support via our website.”