- POSTED: 27 Dec 2013 00:31
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Community leaders in London's Chinatown said the high number of betting shops opening is "devaluing" the area and leaving many locals in "despair".
LONDON: Community leaders in London's Chinatown said the high number of betting shops opening is "devaluing" the area and leaving many locals in "despair".
It is feared the town, in the heart of London's Soho district, is losing its cultural heritage because of the number of betting shop licences being approved, but industry leaders said they are only providing a service because of the high demand.
At the Chinese Community Centre in London, Chinese heritage and culture is alive and well, with dozens of members meeting every day.
Many remember when restaurants began opening in London's Chinatown, feeding British soldiers in the 1950's who had picked up an appetite for Chinese cuisine.
Restaurants remain but there is concern some are being forced out by an increasing number of betting shops taking over the main street.
Nine have opened in the area, and with other applications in the pipeline, community leaders are worried about the effect on locals.
"Over the years, we've had numerous true stories of families being totally destroyed, hard-earned businesses being ruined completely," said Christine Yau, chairwoman of the London Chinese Community Centre.
Some of the betting shops are open until midnight -- welcoming Chinese finishing work in the local restaurants.
The industry said it is simply providing a service where there is demand and does not target specific areas. However, there are fears that the sheer number of betting shops in such close proximity in Chinatown mean many who are addicted cannot resist the temptation.
The importance of Chinatown goes far beyond just tourism. Its roots in London's Chinese community date back hundreds of years and there are now calls for a more considered approach to ensure the area remains protected.
Westminster Council, which is in charge of handing out licences for bookmakers, is investing in research to better understand the impact of multiple betting shops. It insisted the issue is being tackled.
"We've actually turned some applications to open (betting shops) down and then lost on appeal,” said Audrey Lewis, chair of the licensing committee at Westminster Council.
“So it isn't that we haven't been taking it very seriously, but we have to have evidence. Everything we do on licensing has to depend on proper evidence. That's what the law says."
Back at the Community Centre, Christine Yau wants action now and not later, saying the damage is already being done.
She said: "On a good day, if they win some money, then fine, everyone is happy. On a very bad day, they go home, (but) where is the money for food? Where is the money for necessaries? Of course, because of that problem they tend to stay away, Where do they go? Of course, they go to the betting shop."
But with demand for betting shops so high, the fight between them and the community looks set to continue for some time.