U.K. Councils Said to Get Powers to Curb Spread of Betting Shops

U.K. local authorities are to be given powers to stop companies such as William Hill Plc and Ladbrokes Plc from opening new betting shops, as part of a drive to tackle problem gambling, according to two officials familiar with the plans.

The government will create a new planning class for gaming shops, giving councils stronger vetting powers and local citizens a greater say in where gaming shops can be opened, said the officials, who asked not to be named in line with civil-service rules. Sports Minister Helen Grant will make a written statement to Parliament on April 30.

The move is designed to deal with the high numbers of betting shops that have sprung up in town centers in recent years. It comes a month after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne raised the duty on coin-fed slot machines known as fixed-odds betting terminals.

Shares in Ladbrokes and William Hill, the largest U.K. bookmakers, fell after Osborne’s March 19 budget announcement. Ladbrokes rose 3.1 percent in London today, while William Hill gained 2.6 percent.

William Hill CEO Ralph Topping told the Telegraph newspaper April 25 the tax increase will lead to job losses as his company is forced to close 109 of its 2,434 betting shops. Illegal gambling and the closure of greyhound tracks will result, he told the paper.

In its gambling review, the government will also require gaming operators, when applying for a licence, to show how they would comply with player-protection measures such as messaging in windows.

The government asked the Advertising Standards Authority last month to review the codes for gambling advertising to see whether any change to the rules is needed to improve player protection. An announcement is due later this year.

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