NEW bookies and bingo hall owners will have to monitor the gambling habits of people on benefits as well as producing crime prevention plans in the future.

East Lothian Council’s licensing board has approved a new gambling policy which puts the responsibility for policing the risks of betting in the hands of new licensees.

Among the issues that new applicants will have to prove they have addressed before being given a licence will be monitoring “gaming trends that may reflect benefit payments”, “identifying and reporting attempts to launder money on premises” and “protecting vulnerable people and those with gambling dependencies”.

Approving the new draft policy, which will govern the board’s licensing decisions for the next three years, board members raised concerns  about a lack of legislation to stop high streets in deprived communities becoming lined with betting shops.

Councillor Lachlan Bruce, Preston Seton Gosford ward member, called for current laws which prevent local authorities from refusing a licence to betting businesses because of overprovision to be changed.

He said that it was impossible to walk down some town centre streets without being confronted by gambling premises offering promotions and deals.

Mr Bruce told the meeting: “There are high streets in East Lothian where [betting shops] seem to be every 10 yards.

“There is an issue where it is impossible to avoid gambling premises.”

The board was told that the Gambling Act 2003 precluded using overprovision as a reason to refuse a licence for a betting shop.

The council’s new policy will put the onus for local risk assessments on applicants who want to open licensed gambling premises ranging from bookies to casinos, bingo halls, tracks and travelling fairs.

Board member Councillor Jane Henderson, North Berwick Coastal, spoke of the dangers of gambling addiction, saying: “Gambling is an extremely destructive situation and sometime it does not get the headlines other things do.

“But it crosses all walks of life and we, as a board and as individuals, have a moral duty to recognise it is as much an illness as anything else and anything we can do to help should be taken very seriously.”

Councillor Willie Innes, council leader and Preston Seton Gosford ward member, cautioned that only a minority of people who gambled were affected by addiction and for others it was simply an activity they enjoyed.

He told board members: “When I first joined the council, gambling was a backstreet activity with premises down back alleys and it took us a long time to persuade the industry to come onto the high street.”

Mr Innes said that the new policy, which set out additional risk assessment requirements for applicants, sent “a clear message to both the industry and those concerned about it”.