PLANNING rules could be changed to stop betting shops flooding the high street with gaming machines dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling”.

Southend Council is looking at changing its planning policy to stop bookies opening “clusters” of betting shops, and therefore limit the number of fixed odds betting terminals, which allow gamblers to stake up to £300 a minute.

Rob Tinlin, Southend’s chief executive and town clerk, will also write to the Government asking for a change in the law, so betting shops need planning permission before opening in former banks.

Tony Cox, Tory councillor responsible for public protection, said: “My concern is local shopping areas and the number of betting shops that open in clusters.

“They open in clusters in town centres because they can only have four terminals in each shop.

“They open in areas of deprivation, but if they don’t open, people might play more online.

“There is an argument we need to consider, as part of planning policy, do we need to put a limit on the number of betting shops that open.”

Southend and Rochford have 30 betting shops between them, with gamblers able to stake £100 a time on the estimated 120 fixed odds betting terminals, compared to just £2 on fruit machines.

Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston and the managers of Southend charities the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Homeless Action Resource Project are among public figures to raise concerns over the machines If planning policy is changed, councillors could refuse newbetting shops in areas already overrun.

Any new shop already needs a gambling licence from the council.

The change in policy could also be used to limit the number of takeaways in certain areas – but the Tory administration backs freedom for people to spend money as they like.

Jonathan Garston, Tory councillor responsible for planning, said: “Where there are fixed odds betting terminals we should make sure there is information in place to show people where they can get help.

“It’s not for us to tell people where to spend money, but I believe there are people with problems and when they have problems, we can get them help.”