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A new study carried out by the National Centre of Social Research (NatCen) shows that as the bleak economic situation continues to force shops and leisure facilities to close, slot machines and gaming arcades are becoming increasingly common.

The NatCen study is the first major analysis of the geographical distribution of fruit machines. It found that they tend to be most prevalent in areas of high unemployment such as the Welsh valleys, areas around Airdrie, Stirling and Glasgow, and Yorkshire towns like Halifax and Barnsley. Areas where the majority of the population is aged between 16-34 or over 75, such as Brighton and Bournemouth, also had more slot machines than other parts of the country.

More unexpectedly, the study also indicates that reasonably wealthy towns, such as Altrincham in Greater Manchester, as well as places like Milton Keynes and Peterborough, are also what researchers refer to as “high-density machine zones,” with one or more gaming machines per hectare.

Researchers point to a correlation between the closure of shops and leisure outlets and the growth of the gambling industry. Heather Wardle, director of research at NatCen, says: “These high-density areas are not only in poor neighbourhoods. There are relatively affluent areas with a high density of machines. Altrincham is a relatively wealthy area but has a high density of machines, and you think, why is that? And it could be because of a lack of other leisure and recreation types on offer in that area. We know Altrincham town centre had one of the highest rates of retail vacancies in 2010.”

Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman recently suggested that betting companies are deliberately targeting the poor by opening branches in areas with high levels of poverty. She argued that this was making the situation worse, and that gambling is increasingly a factor in benefit dependence for many people.

Harman described high-stakes games machines as “evil” and said they had created “a casino on every high street,” but the Association of British Bookmakers said there was no evidence that betting was exacerbating poverty.

If you think you have a gambling problem, GamCare can provide you with support, information and advice. If you are struggling with debt as a result of gambling, we can advise you on debt management solutions.

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