Agora-Phobia

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Definition of Agora? Originally a word of Greek origin, meaning marketplace. Except in my neighbourhood it’s the name of a gambling arcade. Gambling arcades, those thoroughly entertaining places where youngsters with no money as such, spend the little they have on gaming machines. Agora? Ours closed down some months ago, due to the overpowering success of Paddy Power, William Hill, and Ladbroke betting shops. Mecca Bingo? We don’t have one of those yet; strange really, considering the abundance of pay day lenders and pawn shops. But it’s only a matter of time; after all, we impoverished working classes do so enjoy an excessive flutter on the numbers. We must do, look at the stats betting shops on our high streets out number bank branches (which are closing at the rate of 14 branches a month in some places). Some betting chains are opening at the rate of 11 a month (slower than the number of banks being closed). And in some places betting shops are taking over the premises previously owned by banks. Indeed it would seem that gambling on the odds has become a national past time, with betting shops and banks now being perceived as interchangeable.

You can lay a bet these days using a phone app as well as making a call, and on-line betting is all the rage. Let’s just disregard the fact that the crime statistics for offences committed within a betting shop have risen by 11%. And let’s not even bother touching on the mind altering effects that using fixed odds betting terminals is having on the behaviour of some gambling struck consumers. In the words of one William Hill employee,

‘”You get young people hanging around outside, standing in the doorways so your normal customers get quite intimidated. It’s just not nice that you come to work and feel on edge, not knowing what’s going to happen,” says Sandra Thompson, a betting shop manager at William Hill. Bookmakers are now more like “mini casinos” and fixed odds betting terminals are driving the change. Each machine generates £918 of profit for William Hill each week, and net revenue is up 5%, according to its latest results.

When some punters lose they get angry. Thompson says she often works alone and regularly faces abusive customers who swear, spit, punch and kick the machines in a mixture of frustration and desperation after losing money (The Guardian, 11th may 2012, Simon Murphy). Which brings me to matters of policing, for in an impoverished community overrun by betting shops and gambling arcades, it is a given, that there will be a corresponding rise in crime. Perhaps London Mayor Boris Johnson has a solution? Apparently not, for the Mayor’s new budget proposed a £377 million cut in police activities, with community safety patrols slashed by £74 million and police pay and overtime down £212 million. Now to my mind that translates into unsafe working class streets but what would I know? Two fat ladies anyone?

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