A new slots arcade will open on Aberdeen’s George Street – despite fears it could encourage gambling and antisocial behaviour.
Merkur Slots has been given permission to bring its “low-stake machines” into the former Landbrokes betting shop next to Greggs.
The unit has been vacant since 2019, and the new “adult gaming centre” has been hailed as a “long-term enhancement” to boost the corner of the city.
Company bosses also claim this would bring more investment into “one of Aberdeen’s poorest areas”, creating new jobs and increasing footfall.
It was approved at a heated council meeting today.
And after hearing complaints from neighbours, council chiefs shot down proposals to operate the slots arcade on a 24-hour basis.
Instead, they will be forced to close at 10pm every night.
Could new venue encourage gambling problems?
Despite Merkur Slots’ claims about the benefits of the arcade centre, councillors questioned the need for another slots centre in the city.
They raised fears about it worsening addiction issues.
The company, formerly called Praesepe, recently took over the former Rainbow Casino on Summer Street and also operates a Merkur Slots on Union Street.
Bosses, however, insist these are not stereotypical gambling dens – and more of an “entertainment” venue for people to “spend their spare change” on a game of bingo.
They stress they have “strict restrictions” in place, with the maximum stakes on their machines being a little more than the cost of a steak bake next door at Greggs.
Presenting the project in the chambers, Merkur Slots’ agent said: “General statements made about problem gambling have no links to my client’s operation.
“If they did, the licence would not have been granted.
“There are restrictions in place to ensure there is a limit, and the average customer stake is 30p or 40p on every machine.”
But when pressed on whether there is anything in place to stop customers from playing at the slots all day long, time after time, the agent remained silent.
Real risk of ‘irritating and loud’ noise
Fears of “irritating and loud” noise from the slots machines – as well as from lingering smokers outside the venue – were also at the forefront of the debate.
The meeting quickly turned into a battle of priorities, with councillors weighing up which is more important – filling an empty unit or preserving residents’ peace and quiet.
Bemoaning the application, neighbours said they already put up with a lot from voices, cars and seagulls.
And councillor Marie Boulton echoed those concerns, also raising the question of a potential increase in antisocial behaviour in a “place of refuge” for those living there.
This was backed by Martin Greig, who said there is a “real risk of disturbance” throughout the day.
He added: “George Street has a great cosmopolitan atmosphere, and people there live with an exciting range of businesses nearby. But these new organisations have to fit in.
“I’m not reassured that what we have before us will provide the appropriate kind of peaceful and vibrant lifestyle that should be in place in George Street.”
However, Merkur Slots’ agent insisted there are no grounds for such concerns, adding the company has conducted a “robust” noise assessment prior to the application.
He said: “It’s unclear how objectors can argue that the centre would resolve in antisocial behaviour – there is no evidence to support these claims.”
‘Good idea for George Street residents’ – despite concerns
While councillors were initially confounded about what “adult gaming centres” and “low-stake” machines are, the project was eventually voted through.
Labour’s Sandra MacDonald found comfort in the company’s reassurance that the situation will be monitored going forward, and pushed for the plans to be approved.
She said: “While there are concerns around this application, I believe that having a building that is being brought back into use is to be commended.
“I think it’s a very good idea not only for residents adjacent, but for all residents in the area.”