Despite no obvious activity from the website, I'm still often out and about and the subject of gambling ‘normalisation’ still comes up in a lot of conversations.
Nothing’s changed. People read the newspapers and genuinely believe that MP's are in the process of changing gambling laws for the better of the community. One example is the talking of lowering the stakes on roulette machines.
These are ideas usually put forward by genuinely concerned pressure groups such as GRASP and other groups that put a lot of hard work and effort into preventing gambling harm and raising awareness of its effects on the wider community.
It seems that MP's take all the credit for it, as if they have thought of the idea. But all they seem to do is bring it up every now and then and do a good job of convincing the public that they are doing something about it when in actual fact many of those driving the article to go public are working for the other side.
A few years ago when I started the campaign I came across an article by one of the gambling industry lobbyists which were MP's. It was an attempt to convince the public that he wanted to stop the clustering of betting shops in the community.
It wasn't about stopping the clustering of betting shops. It was a cleverly spun article to dupe the public into making them believe that the way to stop betting shop clustering in areas was to lift limit of electronic gambling machines in betting shops, which currently stands at four per shop. (Hence the reason you will often see Ladbrokes or William Hill betting shops in close proximity to each other)
I’d voiced my concerns to someone recently whilst passing back through my homelands, south Staffordshire. They set me a small project to find out how much gambling promotion was in the local area. So I went out there with my notepad and pens and swung back into action.
I was in the small market town of Cannock, twenty-odd miles north of Birmingham.
In terms of gambling activity, it could have been any town in the country.
I’d been busking for a short while at the start of the day and had been speaking with a young busker who had also played in town that morning.
He seemed an intelligent and friendly lad and when I told him about the project I was doing he confessed to me that he was suffering from an addiction to horse-racing betting.
I was surprised actually, it’s often like that. People often have an image of a worn and torn smoky gambling addict when in actual fact it’s some of our brightest in society that can suffer from this man-made addiction.
So after my busking I get back to it.
As usual betting shops had taken the most lucrative space available in the town.
In the main market square where people stop for a rest or a bite to eat, what seems to stand out the most is the bright green ‘Jennings bet’ shop which would seem to be a shop space highly sought-after. It was sandwiched between a co-op pharmacy and a Jewellers shop. Jennings Bet is open from nine o'clock in the morning until ten at night.
The other side of the jewellers shop was a ‘Shipleys’ amusements arcade. A friend recently told me that as a child he remembers knowing that when he couldn't find his mum he would go to Shipleys because he knew that’s where he would find her.
The other side of Shipleys was a charity shop followed by a shop called ‘Crested Schoolwear’.
Having been aware of the dangers of betting shops and roulette machines and also how chronic an addiction can get, I can only imagine the amount of short stories beginning with “I was getting my girlfriend an engagement ring when…” and “I was getting my kids school uniform when..”
With the jewellers shop sandwiched between Shipleys arcade and Jennings bet it’s the perfect place to pawn your jewellery because in the mind of a compulsive gambler it’s only for an hour or so and of course you’ll win it back.
I guess it’s a good place of resource for the thousands of gamblers that steal from others to fund their addiction too and for those with a little more morals and principle there is a ‘Money Shop’ directly across the road from Jennings bet too so people can get themselves into even more debt.
Just two doors down from ‘The Money Shop’ are Ladbrokes, which has also made itself a main feature of the square with its giant bright-red shop branding. It opens from half-past eight in the morning until ten at night, and just round the corner of the square opposite Greggs the bakers and sandwiched between two mobile phone shops is William Hill which is open from nine in the morning until ten at night.
As I made my way back down to the other end of town just a few doors down from the Ladbrokes was quite a pleasant looking pub. So I nipped in for a quick toilet break.
The toilets were at the very back of the pub and immediately before them was one fruit machine and another electronic gambling machine with games such as ‘Deal or no deal’ where you have to answer questions right to try and win money.
On my way back out from the toilet there was a bloke with a pint in one hand and his young toddler son in the other. That’s how young we start um!!
On my way back out of the pub there were another two fruit machines that I hadn't noticed yet. One of them was being played by a man who was obviously putting all his money and his focus into the machine as he firmly gripped both sides of it.
Two other men were standing there drinking there points looking at the man playing; it looked like they were trying to coax him off the machine. It was obvious that he was under the spell.
I decided to check out the nearby town of Hednesford which was only a couple of miles down the road so I headed towards the train station.
Just at the bottom of town I was heading down into a subway to cut across the road when I had to double check a shopping receipt on the floor that my eyes had caught.
I turned round and walked back a few steps to pick it up. It was a shopping receipt from Poundland which said in big bold letters:
GET £20 FREE WHEN YOU DEPOSIT £5 AT WINKBINGO.COM
I’d personally never seen this kind of advertising from gambling outlets before and as I shook my head with disapproval I slipped my receipt into my notebook and headed through the subway tunnel and into Morrisons supermarket just the other side of its car park.
A five-minute walk down the road as you head into a residential estate was a small Coral betting shop on St Johns road but I didn't head down there on this day as it was too much faffing around so I started looking for more subtle and sneaky gambling promotion because I’d already noticed a giant national lottery poster outside an off-license earlier saying ‘WIN £100,000 BUY YOUR SCRATCHCARD NOW’.
Outside of the front doors of Morrisons sandwiched between the litter bin and the bank machine which conveniently had a massive sign saying ‘Free cash’ was one of those two-feet high national lottery logo board things which was sat on the pavement.
As you walk into the second set of doors there is a big rainbow coloured ‘Health Lottery’ poster on the door which read ‘Winning store’.
Anybody looking for the tobacco section of the store would have also wandered across the biggest poster in that section. It covered the whole side of the tobacco-counter wall and read “3 lottery tickets for £2 from the Health Lottery’.
I headed out to the train station to get to Hednesford and I thought my brain would be having a break from talking about gambling but I guess life was reminding me just how many people are getting affected by gambling.
As I was waiting for the train I’d got talking with a guy about what I was doing and he told me that his girlfriend had lost about £60,000 by signing up to casino sites and gambling it away, luckily she earned quite a bit of money and didn't get herself into as much trouble as many others have.
I only had one stop to go but I picked up the copy of the Metro newspaper to have a look what was happening in the world cup.
On the very back inside page was a half-page advertisement for Ladbrokes football betting. On the opposite page was a slightly smaller but similar advert from Coral.
When you turn the page back again and the whole left hand side column is a William Hill advert and when you've turned the page again there is a quarter-page sized advert for Betway internet football betting.
By the time I’d noticed all these it was time for me to get off the train and see how much gambling promotion there was in nearby Hednesford.
Hednesford is only a small tiny town. I presume most of its younger inhabitants do a lot of their shopping in nearby Cannock as it has a bit more of a choice to offer. Most of its shops are ran by small local business’s
I don’t pass through it much and I’d presumed there would probably be one betting shop on its high street at the most, but there were two plus an ‘amusements’ arcade, plus a massive bingo hall with twenty-eight machines in it’s lobby.
The first betting shop I came across was a Coral which was in plain sight view from Hednesfords main square and its taxi rank.
What was an obvious victory for Coral was that attached to the same part of the building was a HSBC bank machine. You could literally walk from the bank machine into the betting shop within three seconds.
This may seem irrelevant to those that know that you can simply walk to the cash desk and add whatever amount to the machine anyway, but let’s not forget about the many fraud cases out there where people have used other people’s bank cards to fund their gambling addiction.
If I had been a Hednesford resident during the thick of my gambling addiction I probably would have gone to that Coral a few times. I never liked going up to the cash desk to put more money on if I’d already lost a lot because I’d know that they’d know and I’d be embarrassed.
But with a bank machine so close to the betting shop someone addicted to the roulette gaming machines can easily avoid that embarrassment from the human interaction and continue plundering his money down the drain and stay in the hypnotic spell of the electronic roulette. Very dangerous indeed!
Just a few seconds walk and across the road just past a couple of off-licenses is a William Hill betting shop which at the time had a few customers smoking outside.
Directly opposite across the side street was an arcade called ‘Nickel and dime gaming centre’. I didn't go in there to look, I personally have always found a lot of those places to have a dark and creepy feel to them.
Both the betting shops were open from half-past eight in the morning until at least nine in the evening and the arcades was open from nine in the morning until eight in the evening.
I hadn't found out about the Bingo hall at this point so I’ll tell you about that again later.
I headed back to the train station and still having plenty of time in my day I decided to go to the nearby town of Rugeley. On my way back up the high street I noticed that the off-licences which were directly opposite the road from each other both had the two-feet high National lottery statue-things on the pavements outside them. The same as Morrisons had.
As I went to get on the train a friendly chap in his early twenties stood back and let me get on before him and I thanked him. He came and sat on the seats opposite me and told me he was lucky that he just got there and the train pulled up.
“I was just thinking about buying a scratch-card as well” he said. I told him how it was highly relevant how he just said that and explained I was currently on a mission to find out how much gambling stuff is really going on.
He went on to explain that prior to recent times he had been suffering from a severe scratch-card addiction and had been spending over £200 a week and pretty much all his wages on buying scratch-cards.
He’d lost his girlfriend and everything he had from it although thankfully it looks like he’s landing back on his feet now although he still obviously struggles from the temptation. The addiction and potential for him to stumble again is unfortunately still there.
For anyone getting off the bus at Rugeley the first thing they see is William Hill which has two entrances and is a long narrow shop which stretches from the bus station onto the high street.
It used to be an indoor market and I remember people could get flowers, cards and gifts and stuff but I guess during the recession the betting shop boys brought it up.
I grew up as a child for a while in Rugeley though so it annoys me. It annoys me that local trade doesn't own that space any more and that space could be used far more efficiently in terms of local means. It should still be an indoor market!
Just a couple of doors down across the street from William Hill’s high street entrance are Coral betting shop on the corner of the Market square. It was the only betting shop I remember in Rugeley growing up as a child.
It is unfortunately located right in between a Barclay’s bank and a Lloyd’s TSB.
It is unfortunately located right in between a Barclay’s bank and a Lloyd’s TSB.
Just across the market square across the street from Superdrug is a Quicksilver arcade which is next door to Greggs the bakers. Again I always remember this to be there but never really thought or bothered going in there because these dimly-lighten arcade places just always felt a bit devilish to me where as betting shops have a complete different and well-light layout.
Just a few seconds walk down and across the high-street is a Ladbrokes which is where I think Woolworths used to be. It’s next to Poundland and New Look and opposite some clothes shops and Clinton’s cards and a shoe shop. Again this is hard gauntlet for gambling addicts to face, and many fail. The temptation for people to ‘just go and place a cheeky bet’ for people is everywhere and once you've had a big win that’s when they've got ya!
I already know from another one of my last visits to Rugeley that they have also built a Ladbrokes next to the Springfields estate near where the Moderation pub is but I’d been busy so didn't fancy the walk to see if it was still there although I presume it is.
After getting the train back from Rugeley to Cannock (there were no meetings this time!) I decided to get the bus back to my friends. After thinking all the gambling stuff around me had ended I noticed a low-quality printed sign stuck to the inside of the bus stop.
‘Prize bingo every Thursday from 8.30pm. Lots of top prizes including up to 4 £40 cash prizes. Children welcome. No membership required’
On the sign were various pictures including bikes, washing powder, microwaves and kids toys.
I passed the venue on the way up on the Pye Green road which is a social club style place with what seems some kind of local owned betting shop attached to it which I presume is mainly football and horse betting.
After thinking my day of research was over and complete I was talking with a friend about it who asked me if I’d seen the bingo hall. I hadn't so she gave me a lift to go and take a look at it.
The main lobby had twenty-eight gaming and fruit machines inside it with two old ladies playing on the fruit machines at the time.
I asked the lady behind the desk if I could take a peek into the bingo hall and she seemed suspicious as to why I was asking.
After asking her manager if it was OK if I take a look she led me to have a quick look through into the bingo hall, which was massive.
It was a megalith of row upon row of bingo tables; I've never really been in a bingo hall so I was shocked at the sheer size of it.
She asked me “are you a bit of a gambler then?” in which I briefly explained I was doing a project on gambling outlets in the area.
But after leaving the bingo hall and turning my head I noticed that the lady at the reception had become overly paranoid that I might be sussing out the place to rob it. She made sure to take a good luck around the doors and the car park to make sure there wasn't anything shifty going on.
Who can blame her? There’s a lot of people’s money being made in these places and bandits know it!
My friend then drove me to nearby Chadsmoor (a part of Hednesford) which also had two betting shops I didn't know about, a Betfred and a Coral right next to the local ‘Nisa’ shop.
And that was pretty much the end of my day. Just one day!
I'm hoping this refreshes a few memories into realising really how much gambling is being shoved into our faces. How much we’re being coaxed into ‘just making that little bet’.
Those that have either read my blog or being through something similar themselves know that it just takes that one nice win for a lot of people. Those that stop gambling after a win are the few, but it’s not like they aren't constantly being reminded every second of the day to just take a punt.