COUNCILLORS have called for senior figures from a number of different organisations to come together in a bid to tackle problem gambling across the district.

Members of Bradford Council’s corporate scrutiny committee debated problem gambling at their latest meeting, and during the discussion they heard from a representative of High Street giant William Hill, and a man who became homeless due to gambling.

Tony Franklin, who told councillors he would spend up to £1,000 a day at fixed odds betting terminals, said that as well as the harm betting shops did to individuals, they also sucked money out of the local economy.

The committee had discussed problem gambling earlier this year, when members were given a report that showed gambling businesses were concentrated in some of the most deprived areas of the district.

At that time councillors called for a future meeting where representatives of the gambling industry could attend to speak about what the industry did to try to prevent vulnerable people from succumbing to addiction.

Ian Clark, from William Hill, told members that staff were encouraged to intervene when people got carried away in their premises.

And members were told that people could also “self exclude” if they felt their gambling was becoming a problem – meaning they would not be able to gamble in that or other betting shops.

He said: “The safest place to gamble is in a betting shop. It means people aren’t going online, ticking boxes saying they are over 18 on a website.”

As well as betting shops and adult gaming centres, the committee heard that games machines in pubs and bars were also increasingly prevalent.

Members spoke about people losing large amounts of money to gambling, but Councillor David Green said: “It is not just big amounts. A big problem might be someone who loses their last £20 or the money for their weekly shopping when they can’t afford it.

“If you don’t have a lot of money, losing that last £20 is devastating. Losing £20 when you have nothing can be worse than losing £1,000 if you have £20,000.”

Mr Franklin told members of his story – developing a gambling problem at a young age and eventually becoming homeless because of it. He said it had impacted his family and still cast a shadow on his life.

He told members: “I’m not against gambling, I’m against the industrialisation of electronic gambling machines. After bills the average person has between £125 and £499 to spend a month. In areas of Bradford it is probably towards the lower end. People don’t have hundreds of pounds to burn on these machines. That money could be used to put food on the table, or to pay rent.

“I’m not an addict, I just realised one day that I was being mugged by the industry.”

He said that while betting shops filled empty units, and created business rates, he did not feel they contributed to the local economy.

He added: “The money that goes into these machines is being dragged out of the local economy. It is going to the shareholders of these companies.

“As a council you should say ‘no, there are enough machines’.”

Councillor Alun Griffiths said: “There is no such thing as responsible gambling, much as there is no such thing as safe smoking. As well as the personal impact, it moves money out of the local economy.”

Cllr Green said: “I know as a council we are limited in what we can do, but can someone go away and talk about this?”

He suggested the committee writes to the council’s executive to organise a conference or workshop to discuss the issue of gambling in Bradford district. He said: “Alone we can’t solve the problem, and the industry alone can’t solve the problem, but if we get everyone together in a room together we can at least get some debate and maybe some action about it.”

Members suggested such a conference could include industry representatives, health bosses, charities and the council.