Christians fear growth of gambling in London’s Chinatown

Christians, shopkeepers and residents of London’s Chinatown have joined forces against the proliferation of betting shops and slot machine arcades that have opened in the area.

There are more than 60 gaming shops in the London borough of Westminster, where Chinatown lies. Around half of the gaming shops are located in Chinatown.

Locals have come together under the banner of the Westminster Citizens group – the local branch of London Citizens - to protest the prevalence of gambling shops in their community.

The group says the betting shops are causing serious levels of gambling addiction and debt among those who live and work in the area.

They are lobbying Westminster City Council to cap the number of gaming shops in the borough and have submitted a formal objection against an application from bookmakers Betfred for new premises on Gerrard Street, the main street in China Town.

They were out in force outside Westminster City Hall on Thursday to protest against any more gambling licences.

Nikki Lee, of London Citizens, said: “Enough is enough. This proliferation of casinos has become a social ill that is leading to a breakdown in many marriages and serious debt.”

The problem has become so serious that the Christian Gambling Rehabilitation Centre has been set up in Soho to help people recover from their gambling addictions.

Mrs Lee said: “We don’t want Soho to become a gambling quarter. Chinatown is much more than a cluster of betting shops. We represent all that is diverse and dynamic about London.”

Jennifer Hogg, who is campaigning against gambling on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance, warns that the rise in betting shops is being seen right across the UK.

She believes the problem lies in licensing and planning loopholes that tie the hands of local authorities.

“Every betting shop or arcade is a mini-casino containing high-stake gaming machines,” she said.

“Now we are witnessing clusters of bookies and arcades in poorer areas.

“Because of legal loopholes, councils have no power to curb gambling expansion and can’t use their local knowledge to protect communities from overcrowding by gambling venues.

“This is harming people in our most deprived areas.”