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Enough Safer Gambling Week nonsense - only reform will reduce harm and boost economic growth

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Will Prochaska

Will Prochaska | Gambling With Lives

4 min read Partner content

The gambling industry in its current form poses a danger to public health and the Government's objective of going for growth. Long awaited reforms are needed in full and undiluted.

Imagine the gambling industry execs’ exchanges when dreaming up Safer Gambling Week. They know they must do something, as more than 1.4 million people are addicted to their products in the UK and every day at least one of those dies by suicide, a reputational nightmare.

But any campaign focusing on the real causes of harm – mass advertising and marketing of highly addictive products – could lead to a huge hit to their profits. It’s an awful position for them. Then one of them has a light bulb moment.

“Addiction, destruction of families, break up of communities, and death make us look bad, right? But it’s not our products that are bad, it’s the people who use them too much. Let’s have a week where we mention nothing about our role in this, but talk about all the things a ‘safe,’ ‘responsible’ gambler should do. Then, if they don’t do them, they’re the irresponsible ones, not us!”

Applause, champagne, cigars, and the rest is history.

Now in its fifth outing, this year’s week of deception falls on 17 to 23 October, where the industry will urge people it has lured into gambling to “set their limits” or “take time to think”. Those who become addicted to online slots and casino games, which are designed to be addictive and aggressively promoted as safe, are called “problem gamblers”. Just like the Sackler family pronounced on the opioid epidemic they caused, they believe the addicts are the problem, not the industry peddling addictive products.

This heaps shame and stigma onto people’s mental health, which contributes to more than 400 gambling-related suicides a year in England alone. We know it better than anyone, as at Gambling with Lives – a charity supporting families (pictured) who have lost people to gambling – we read the suicide notes.

If you were cynical, you’d say there must be a massive economic benefit for this circus to continue despite the evident harm to British people. This was one of Big Tobacco’s arguments to prevent regulation of its addictive products and now the gambling industry is trying the same trick.

But the truth is that gambling is a weight on the economy and a barrier to growth. Studies from NERA and the Social Market Foundation show that by making gambling legislation fit for the digital age the government would not only boost growth and jobs but would positively impact the cost-of-living crisis and overall tax revenues.

Gambling profits are made disproportionately from deprived communities meaning any reduction in the gambling industry’s activity will also support levelling up. It’s worth remembering that most gambling operators are based abroad so don’t even pay corporation tax to the Exchequer.

Gambling with Lives is a community of families bereaved by gambling-related suicide.

The economic argument is finally flung out the door when you consider the gargantuan cost of gambling harm to the public purse. Public Health England estimates this to be almost £1.3 billion each year in England.

The industry’s lobbyists were recently seen in the shadows of the party conferences smirking in the belief that the Truss administration will throw out the Conservative manifesto commitment to update gambling laws on the basis it would be “anti-growth”. But the contrary is just as likely to be true. When the figures are examined, the economic opportunities that updating gambling regulations would bring should be too hard to resist for any government with a growth agenda. Curtailing the worst of the gambling industry will also be a vote winner as the polls consistently prove.  

Economics aside, one of the instant wins from new gambling policy would be to spare us all from the embarrassing and dangerous industry charade that is Safer Gambling Week. Last year’s was a disaster for the industry with several blunders including Sky Vegas getting caught sending incentives to thousands of people recovering from gambling disorder.

This year the industry may feel it has aired its dirty laundry just in time with Entain, Betway and Betfred having racked up over £20m in fines from the Gambling Commission since September, but there will be more. Let’s wait and see what shameful acts this year’s embarrassment holds in store, and who will misguidedly pin their colours to the Safer Gambling Week mast.

Be warned - history will judge the whole nefarious affair unkindly. 

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