Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, faced a barrage of criticism from the UK's gambling industry after suggesting betting shops were blighting high streets and communities in low income areas.

Speaking at the Business in Sport and Leisure conference in London, Harman received a hostile reception and barracking from an audience including Britain's biggest bookmakers and trade representatives from the gambling sector.

Harman, appointed Labour's culture spokesperson in October, raised concerns over what she described as a proliferation of betting shops in hard up areas such as her constituency in Peckham, south London.

One thing I've done since I came into this post is focussed on what's happening on the high streets in low income areas, wanting to make sure they don't become blighted by too many betting shops that are becoming like mini casinos, Harman told delegates at the conference at Lord's cricket ground.

Harman published a report on Tuesday raising concerns over the number of betting shops on high streets and the impact of so-called B2 gambling machines, which have maximum stakes of 100 pounds and have been linked to problem gambling.

High street bookmakers such as William Hill and Ladbrokes are limited to having only four of the machines in each of their shops.

I understand that the way to deal with that is to open more shops so you can get more machines onto the high street. People in my area are protesting about all these betting shops opening. They feel that it's unbalancing the high street, Harman told the conference.

Ladbrokes' Corporate Affairs Director Ciaran O'Brien said there was no evidence of a proliferation of betting shops and some claims about problem gambling were not supported by the evidence.

The total number of betting shops has remained static over the last six years. It's actually half the number that were in Britain in the 1970s, he told the conference.

The average spend on machines is about 9 pounds per hour so it's not excessive. The betting industry is a well regulated mainstream leisure activity. We do train our staff very carefully on issues like problem gambling.

Dirk Vennix, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers which represents large gambling companies such as Ladbrokes, William Hill and Gala Coral as well as smaller independents, also questioned Harman's assertions.

There is no evidence for the links which you are suggesting between problem gambling and the presence of betting shops on the high street. We're keeping 40,000 people in work and also giving a billion pounds to the treasury, he said.

Harman said she accepted that in some areas there was no problem but cited Southwark in south London as an example of an area where the number of betting shops had spiralled out of control.

In the London Borough of Southwark we've got 76 betting shops and there's been an absolute burgeoning of them. The point is that local people should be able to say we've got enough betting shops on our high street, she said.

The number of problem gamblers in Britain has increased since 2007 and the proportion of adults who gamble has risen, according to a study published by the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator.

Gambling Minister John Penrose declined to comment on Harman's concerns.

(Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)