By Kelly Grehan
Last week I attended an event with Matt Zarb-Cousin, he is known for his previous role as Jeremy Corbyn’s Spokesperson, but is a long term campaigner for the organisation Fairer Gambling (http://fairergambling.org/about-the-campaign/). Since listening to him I’ve been looking at the awful impact gambling now has on our communities.
I grew up with relatives who would bet on the horse racing every Saturday and for them gambling was a harmless pleasure, akin to collecting stamps or going fishing.
Whilst gambling remains harmless for some, for others it is a desperate source of misery.
More than 2 million people in the UK are now either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction, according to the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission. They also estimated that the number of British over-16s deemed to be problem gamblers had grown by a third in three years, suggesting that about 430,000 people suffer from a serious habit.
Gambling advertising is now everywhere.
Nine premier league football teams now carry bookmakers names on their shirts. During half time, TV advert breaks are now filled with aggressive adverts flashing up the odds on who the next scorer will be and urging them to log on and place a bet. They are now such a staple part of half time advertising of football games, and have normalised gambling so much that many children think the sole purpose of the break in play is to allow audiences an opportunity to place a bet.
Fixed Odd Betting Machines are a major problem, allowing gamblers to spend £100 every 20 seconds. Indeed the bookies, once primarily concerned with horse racing and football bets, currently make 60% of their income from the machines.
Currently shops are allowed to have up to 4 machines and this is one of the main reasons for the high street becoming full of betting shops: to allow the company to get more machines in.
As many traditional shops have departed the high street, the number of bookies and arcades has risen.
I feel these machines are an undeniable source of misery: 43% of people who use the machines are ‘problem gamblers.’ Unlike bingo or a night at the dogs there is no social interaction, in fact I visited a bookies before writing this piece, at noon on Saturday and found people so absorbed in the machine they did not respond to any stimulation like noise. It was a sad sight.
The machines inflict further troubles to the towns they occupy. One third of the machines are smashed every year, meaning the call outs to betting shops by Police are far above the average to other high street shops. Most have only one member of staff, on a low wage, in store at any one time, so their impact on the total economy is minimal.
The mental health repercussions of problematic gambling are immense.
The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 80% of addicted gamblers think about killing themselves and one in five make an attempt to take their own lives. As a result, gambling addiction costs the UK up to £1.6 billion a year in mental health, police and welfare system services.
A study published in the Journal Addiction last year found that all gambling increases the participants likelihood of engaging in violence. The gambling industry contribute £10 million per annum of their £13 billion profit towards gambling treatment.
The social effect of addictive gambling does great damage to the family unit and to the disposable income the family should enjoy.
Poorer people are targeted more by gambling companies: there are twice as many machines/bookies in poorer boroughs and gambling companies are even harvesting data to deliberately target low-income gamblers and people who have given up.
Inevitably calls to set limits on gambling we be met by calls of nanny-statism. But I would like to point to parallels with the smoking ban, which has seen marked improvements in public health since it was introduced in 2007. There are already strict laws on the times junk food and alcohol can be advertised on television. I think the same restrictions should be placed on the advertising of gambling.
Why not ban fixed odd betting machines altogether? We ban drugs, driving without a seatbelt and cycling without a helmet in order to protect individuals from their own bad judgement, why would this be any different?
It is not as if the machines provide any positive socialisation or community benefits.
Of course problem gambling has always existed, but the rise in it and the implications it has for those affected and the costs to the state of the health problems it generates surely mean government action should be taken.
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