Over 8 in 10 gambling premises are within easy access to cash machines

21 January 2022

New research on the geography of gambling in Britain found 83% of gambling premises in Britain have an ATM within a two-minute walk, with two-thirds (65%) less than a minute away. Availability and accessibility of cash is a risk factor for overspending, particularly for people experiencing gambling disorder.

Researchers at the University of Bristol, funded by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, reviewed literature on the relationship between cash and gambling and also conducted new geographical analysis of gambling premises and ATMs.

The research found that while some gamblers feel that using cash gives them a greater feeling of control over their spend, easy access to cash may lead to some gamblers spending more than they planned. This is particularly relevant for those gambling on gaming machines (which are currently cash-only in Britain) and for those who use cash to circumvent self-imposed blocks on gambling on their debit card.

The geographical analysis found that:

  • There was an ATM physically located at approximately one in every ten gambling premises.
  • While gambling premises tend to be located in relatively deprived areas, those in the most deprived areas are more likely to have an ATM within a gambling venue. In contrast, ATMs in supermarkets, banks and post offices are significantly less likely to be located in deprived areas.
  • Within gambling premises, cash continues to be a key payment method, especially among lower income households – a group who tend to experience higher risk factors for problem gambling.
  • Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of ATMs within gambling premises had been declining but at a rate slower than that for ATMs in venues such as bank branches and Post Offices. Since the pandemic started, however, the rate of decline has been steeper within gambling premises.

Whilst gambling has increasingly moved online, gambling premises still account for nearly half (44%) the UK’s gambling yield (excluding lotteries) prior to the first coronavirus lockdown - around £5 billion.

The research highlights the relative ease with which gamblers in land-based venues can access more money for gambling if they so wish. The report authors therefore recommend:

  • Financial services firms should use the transaction data available to them to further understand whether some customers (in particular, those previously known to spend large amounts at gambling premises) are withdrawing more cash since turning on a gambling block on their debit card.
  • Firms should consider proactively offering customers the ability to further control or limit cash withdrawals. While some banks may allow customers to do this if they ask for it, it is not an option that is routinely offered.
  • Firms should also consider how to better signpost customers to other forms of self-exclusion from gambling, as card blocking on its own may not offer sufficient protection.

Additionally, the existence of workarounds such as cash – and increasingly via a range of new digital ways of paying – highlights the importance of the Government introducing proportionate affordability checks for gamblers in its forthcoming review of the Gambling Act. These would ensure a last layer of protection from harm for those who find workarounds to self-exclusion tools or who are not aware that such tools exist.

Jamie Evans, lead researcher at the University of Bristol, said:

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to helping individuals wishing to control their gambling spend. While some find cash a useful budgeting tool, for others it may provide an easy route to continue gambling. This means it is crucial that banks offer their customers the flexibility to manage their money in the way that works best for them.”

Mubin Haq, CEO at abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, said:

“Despite the decline of the use of cash in recent years in Britain, it remains a key payment method at gambling venues especially amongst those on lower incomes. However, today’s report finds a worrying overlap between gambling venues and cash machines, and that this concentration is even greater in poorer areas.

“It remains far too easy for people to spend more than they intend to on gambling. It is therefore important that financial services firms, gambling operators and Government work in coalition to close loopholes such as those offered by cash (or other forms of payment). Whilst good progress has been made on bringing in gambling blocks on card payments we need to see more protection from harm than is currently on offer.”

Read the report