JUNKIES are getting high and drug dealers are conducting business in betting shops across East Oxford and Cowley, police have said.

Store managers have reported a series of crimes on their premises, ranging from heroin use to criminal damage caused by frustrated punters.

Now police and bookies are joining forces to clampdown on anti-social behaviour with the launch of the Thames Valley’s first pub watch-style scheme for betting shops.

Oxford Betwatch, launched at Oxford Stadium in Blackbird Leys yesterday, will see staff communicate more closely with police and each other, with warnings being sent to all shops if there is a problem customer.

Three high street betting chains – Ladbrokes, William Hill and Tote Sport – have already signed up.

Tony Lal, who works at William Hill in Templars Square Shopping Centre, said Betwatch will make bookies safer for both punters and staff.

He said: “We have had junkies using our toilets to shoot up and have been used as a place for drug dealers to conduct business.

“We have put locks on our toilet doors, but it’s very hard to spot these type of people. It happens at all the shops.

“We are normally quite busy and on most days there will be lots of people hanging around, watching the television screens.

“It is very easy for criminals and other unsavoury people to walk in and out unnoticed.”

The idea Oxford BetWatch was first discussed in April last year, when several betting shops in Cowley asked police how they could deal with with the problems.

Now neighbourhood officers will make regular visits to the shops to make sure they remain crime free.

Steve Green, from Totesport, in Between Towns Road, said: “We sometimes get punters who may have had a bad day getting quite angry.

“A number of times they have caused criminal damage or been rude and abusive to staff. The perception of gambling has changed and more people from a wider section of society now have a flutter.

“We do not want people to feel intimidated about coming in.”

Nigel Prior, from Ladbrokes, added: “It is an important scheme, and one which should make betting shops safer and more welcoming.”

Police hope the scheme will now be picked up by other betting shops in the city.

Pc Tony Kirby, who launched Oxford Betwatch, said: “The scheme is very similar to the national pub watch scheme and it is the first of its type in the Thames Valley Police area.

“It will allow us to create closer ties with our local communities and ensure the same principles that are applied to the city’s licensed premises are being applied to its betting shops.

“In this case, these shops wanted to work together to tackle the dealing of drugs in their premises and work together with police to do.

“We realised this joint working could be something of benefit to all parties involved and we wanted to formalise this with the Oxford BetWatch scheme.”