Plans for an adult gaming centre at a shopping centre have been given the final nod with the approval of a premises licence.

Cleveland Leisure Centres was previously granted planning permission to convert the former Shoe Zone unit at the Parkway Centre in Coulby Newham into a gaming arcade for over-18s. However, the company also required a premises licence before they could go ahead with the plans.

The move proved controversial with an online petition launched and objections raised with concerns it would promote problem gambling. As reported, one resident suggested a gambling environment where “vulnerable” customers were offered refreshments and enjoyed interaction with staff could be considered “exploitation”.

She told Middlesbrough Council’s licensing committee considering the application: “My concern is about vulnerable adults – all the checks and balances for children won’t help those people who might not understand you don’t get something for nothing.” Others suggested gambling establishments attract anti-social behaviour and alternative sites would be more appropriate.

The applicant argued vulnerable people should not be banned from gambling. In terms of the potential for attracting crime, it was noted Cleveland Police made no representations against the application.

The unit has stood empty since June 2022 and developers said the centre would help bring it back to life. Staff employed there would monitor gambling with the option for customers to exclude themselves.

The licensing committee agreed to approve the application with a condition that the frontage of the arcade must be frosted to prevent gaming machines being on view to passing shoppers. There must also be no adverts or signs outside which promote gambling.

In its written decision, the committee said it could not consider ethical or moral objections in relation to adult gaming centres, gambling and gaming machines. “Gambling harms and addictions blight lives, however, under the Gambling Act and the parameters of its decision making, the committee is not permitted to consider such harms and detrimental impact of addictions generally.

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“It cannot refuse an application based on general gambling addiction harms and hardship.” The committee also said the evidence provided showed the applicant’s track record was “that of a responsible operator.”

“The applicant operates other adult gaming centres in North Ormesby and Thornaby and there have been no issues or reports of problems, non-compliance, or the undermining of the licensing objectives,” they added. Once operational, the arcade will be open between 9am and 6.30pm Monday to Wednesday and Saturdays, 9am to 7pm Thursday and Fridays, and between 9.30am and 4pm on Sundays.