24-hour trial approved for adult gaming centre Merkur Slots in South Shields' King Street amid problem gambling concerns
Earlier this year, South Tyneside Council’s planning department registered a planning application for the Merkur Slots premises at 48 King Street in the town centre.
The adult gaming centre, which offers low stakes slot machines, bingo machines and tablets, was established on King Street after being granted planning permission in February, 2021.
Although the applicant initially applied for a 24-hour opening, a planning condition was imposed by the council restricting hours between 8am and midnight daily, following police concerns.
This included fears the premises could become a “focal point for the street community”, with the reduced opening hours aiming to support the “prevention of crime and disorder”.
The new planning application from Merkur Slots Ltd (UK) asked for the planning condition to be removed and for 24-hour opening hours to be allowed at the site.
During consultation on the application, Northumbria Police objected again and claimed the planning bid was a “reversal of a [previous] agreement”.
While noting the applicant’s “socially responsible approach”, the police raised concerns about the proposal “bringing the complete casino experience to low stakes gambling, particularly in a time of such economic uncertainty and a cost of living crisis”.
The police statement, supported by the council’s public health team, said the 24-hour opening was “inappropriate for the locality” and that the casino experience offered, including refreshments, could be a “gateway to gambling” for some.
Councillor David Francis, Green Party representative for Beacon and Bents, also objected to the plans and said they would have a negative impact on the area.
Cllr Francis said: “In a world where gambling addiction ruins lives and can lead to financial ruin, I see no benefit from allowing such premises to run 24 hours a day in the centre of our town.”
A covering letter submitted on behalf of the applicant said Merkur Slots venues typically operate on a 24-hour basis and that the South Shields premises would not increase anti-social behaviour, noise or any other crime and disorder.
The letter also stated that Merkur adult gaming centres are “well-run premises” and that no noise complaints had been made about the King Street centre since it opened.
Elsewhere an applicant response to the police objection, published on South Tyneside Council’s website, said there was no evidence that suggested a “correlation” between the 24-hour use and an “influx in crime in this part of South Shields”.
The applicant also disputed police comments about low stakes machines, ranging from 10p to a maximum of £2, being a potential “gateway to gambling” and described the comments as “simply unjustified”.
However, it was confirmed that the applicant would be willing to accept a temporary planning permission for a 24-hour use to allow the impact to be monitored.
After considering the 24-hour opening hours application and assessing it against planning policies, council planners approved the request but on a trial basis.
This included the premises operating with unrestricted hours for a “temporary” one-year period.
A council decision report said the “trial run is needed to assess the effect of the development on the area” in accordance with planning policies.