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Problem gambling: a product of ideology?

James Mildred

Gambling2 0

Yesterday the Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry heard evidence about who should take responsibility for preventing problem gambling, and whether the existing legislation regulating the industry (the Gambling Act 2005) works effectively to prevent gambling-related harm.

Ideology influences lawmaking

The Committee reflected on the Budd report, written in 2001, whose recommendations were implemented in the Gambling Act 2005.

In his oral evidence, Sir Alan Budd highlighted some of the shifts in public attitudes to gambling over time. At the time of his report in 2001, gambling had received ‘official support and encouragement through the launch of the national lottery’.

It was also a time when individualism and liberalism were the predominant ideals that influenced the way legislators and the general public viewed the industry:

‘There was an increased belief in the importance of personal choice – that what individuals wanted was an important indicator of what they should have, and also a belief that markets and competition were an efficient way of meeting consumer wishes.’

That ideology was reflected in the final report, and gambling was considered as ‘yet another consumer activity.’ The report asked how the consumer would be best satisfied if they continued to choose to gamble in a way that was cheap, effective and enjoyable.

The Gambling Act 2005 therefore sought to strike a delicate balance between the autonomy of the individual with the need to protect the vulnerable.

A shift in attitudes

However, we now find ourselves in a world where problem gambling has reached unprecedented levels, so much so that disordered gambling is now recognised as a medical condition.

There are now 450,000 problem gamblers in the UK – up more than 200,000 since 2007, with an average debt of £17,500 each.

Most alarmingly, problem gambling has increased considerably amongst children. A report by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board found that more than 90 per cent of young people have been exposed to gambling adverts on television and social media, and more than 10 per cent of under 16s had gambled in the previous week. They also found that 25,000 children between the ages of 11 and 16 are problem gamblers.

In the past there was more of an emphasis on the responsibility of the individual to refrain from gambling in a way that was excessive or harmful. Today, there is more responsibility placed on the industry itself, and a recognition that gambling is a highly addictive activity that vulnerable people must be protected from.

Part of this shift may be due to increased awareness of the harms that gambling can cause, through greater attention in the media to the way the industry can prey on the vulnerable and destroy lives.

Issues with the Gambling Act

One of the most concerning aspects of the original legislation is it permits under 18s to gamble on machines, which are known to be one of the most addictive forms of gambling for children. The original report reduced the opportunities for children to do so, but its authors were persuaded of the importance of seaside amusement arcades and their local importance for economies, thus they did not make it illegal, as is the case in many other Western countries.

Furthermore, the Act did not make effective provision for online gambling, which was not particularly prevalent at the time. With the significant increases in online gambling since 2005, and particularly the ubiquity of the smartphone – with unlimited access to gambling services in your pocket – there clearly needs to be greater action to regulate the online industry.

The Committee also discussed the issues with online gambling advertising, which allows for very targeted advertising on social media, and evidence suggested that more needs to be done to regulate the links between gambling advertising and sporting events.

CARE’s position

CARE believes that the widespread increase in and ready accessibility to gambling necessitates more rigorous regulation. This is particularly the case with the significant growth in online gambling, which the Gambling Commission recently predicted will rise to account for 50% of the sector over the next few years.

We particularly believe that more needs to be done to protect children from the harms of gambling, and that the Gambling Act 2005 should be amended to prohibit making online gambling games available to under 18s, even when there is no exchange of money.

We also believe there should be a legal duty of care on gambling operators towards those who use their services, and that better protection for the vulnerable will include measures such as a complete ban on the use of credit cards for gambling on or offline, and restrictions on the timings in which gamblers may use services (problem gamblers are particularly vulnerable between midnight and 6am).

Celebrating successes

CARE has seen a number of successes protecting those most vulnerable to problem gambling in the last few years. One of these victories was the Government’s announcement last year that the maximum stake on FOBTs (Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals) – known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling – would be reduced to just £2.

CARE has also campaigned for better self-exclusion tools to be introduced, and we worked with Lord Browne to table amendments to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 for the introduction of a multi-operator self-exclusion. The Guardian recently reported that it looks likely the Gambling Commission will approve the rollout of GAMSTOP this week, which will enable online problem gamblers to register their self-exclusion with the Gambling Commission, meaning all licensed gambling websites would then be unable to contact them.

Find out more

Find out more about our work on gambling here.

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While for some, gambling is just harmless fun, for a significant minority it causes genuine devastation. Our vision is to see laws passed that will help protect vulnerable problem gamblers.

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