SOUTHEND has the most betting shops per person in Essex – with a concentration almost 50 per cent higher than the next ranked area.

The borough has a bookmaker for every 3,758 residents – a concentration 46 per cent greater than that in Harlow, which has one for every 5,492 people.

Southend Council is considering changing its planning policies to prevent clusters of betting shops in the High Street, where up to three shops in a row are bookmakers.

Southend is Essex’s biggest town and attracts six million visitors a year, but anti-gambling campaigners and the town’s Labour group has become concerned betting shops are taking over the town centre.

Basildon, meanwhile has 24 betting shops while Castle Point has 12 and Rochford just seven.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, of Southend, one of the founder members of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: “It’s really short-sighted to fill an empty unit with a betting shop.

“They only employ one to two full-time staff.

“It’s taking money out of deprived communities and it’s not translated into jobs.”

The campaigner says chains are opening multiple brances to get around a law limiting the number of fixed odds betting terminals, described as the “crack cocaine of gambling”, to four per shop – a claim the industry strongly denies.

Gambling industry lobbyists have pointed to the 200 jobs the 36 shops in the town have brought and Rochford and Southend East MP James Duddridge has warned critics of a “snobbish and aloof attitude” to a legitimate leisure pastime.

The Conservative, who has credited betting shops and the town’s two casinos with regenerating Southend, said: “Betting shops provide employment and are responsive to market demand.

“I am not surprised there are that number of betting shops locally.

“Southend also boasts a large number of restaurants, bars, clubs and other leisure activities.

“Southend is a glorious place to live in and visit.

“While gambling needs to be acknowledged, the industry forms part of a successful and balanced local economy. Southend has a myriad of leisure offerings.

“We should not have a snobbish and aloof attitude to what is a legitimate leisure pursuit.”

Julian Ware-Lane, Labour councillor for Milton, who has campaigned against fixed odds betting terminals, said: “I’m not anti-gambling or betting shops, but my concern is we are saturated.

“We are streets ahead of the rest of Essex and it makes me uneasy.”

On Monday, a cross-party group of councillors will discuss the authority’s plans to look into the problem.