Residents blast 24-hour plans for gambling venue, saying it will drive area ‘into the gutter’

By Joe Coughlan, Local Democracy Reporter

Residents have blasted plans for an adult gaming centre to be open 24-hours-a-day, saying it could encourage “drug dealing” and will drive the town centre “into the gutter”.

Bexley council has received plans to extend the opening hours for an adult gaming centre in Welling town centre to operate seven-days-a-week.

The business, called Merkur Slots, is currently allowed to be open from 9am until 11pm, after it was given permission to be converted from a betting shop into a gaming centre in August 2020.

Council documents said that the Gaming Act 2005 defines gaming machines as machines designed to allow individuals to gamble, and are also known as slot machines.

Several objections to the plans were received from households in the surrounding area. Residents said there was already a history of crime and disorderly conduct nearby, and that they were worried the plans would encourage gambling addiction.

One objection was summarised in council documents as: “Concerns with antisocial behaviour, eg littering, loitering, noise disturbance, drug dealing, graffiti, fly tipping and the alleyway next to the betting shop being used as a toilet.”

Council officers said in their report that there was no demonstrable evidence that the extended hours would cause any significant increase in antisocial behaviour.

They also said that the business was willing to be given permission to open 24/7 on a temporary basis, to allow the council to monitor any potential complaints.

Conservative councillor Nigel Betts, who represents the Falconwood and Welling ward for Bexley council, said in council documents that he was “appalled” by the application.

He said he did not consider Welling to be a “24/7 town centre” and hoped it never would be.

Cllr Betts said: “Gambling is a blight on our local community and should not be encouraged.

“What possible justification is there to make this establishment a 24-hour operation other than to prey on those who are addicted to gaming machines and other forms of betting?

“We want Welling to be a vibrant shopping centre and not be driven down in to the gutter by this sort of development.”

Council documents said that Merkur Slots had sent an operational management plan to outline how noise would be controlled in the space.

It said customers would be asked to be respectful of neighbours when going outside to smoke or leaving the gaming centre.

It added: “Individuals who are deemed to be under the influence of excessive alcohol shall not be allowed to enter the premises.

“A notice will be placed that is visible from the exterior of the premises stating that drinking alcohol directly outside the premises is forbidden and that those who do so will be banned from the premises.”

The plan to extend the opening hours of Merkur Slots in Welling will be discussed at a planning committee meeting for Bexley council on Thursday of next week.

Pictured top: Merkur Slots, as seen in Bellegrove Road, Welling (Picture: Google Earth)

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