This year’s political cringe event is here - the gambling industry’s Safer Gambling Week
It’s time to cut through the gambling industry’s cynical and patronising PR and legislate for what people really need – a public health approach to the risks of gambling.
On 1 November the gambling industry will start its annual contortion festival – Safer Gambling Week. After spending £1.5 billion each year pushing people to gamble more, they spend a week telling the same people to know their spending limits and to ‘Take Time to Think’.
This week-long gambling industry lecture — with the support of industry funded charity partners — will ramp up to full condescension by reminding their customers they might want to think about gambling more responsibly, whatever that means, and will offer some ‘tools’ to help them, such as setting voluntary deposit limits.
I work for a charity, Gambling with Lives, that supports families whose lives have been shattered by gambling-related suicide. Research shows that every working day two people take their lives due to gambling in the UK. And anyone familiar with addiction knows that if it was just a matter of deciding to ‘set their limits’ or ‘take time to think’, no one would suffer from gambling disorder or take their life because of it.
Independent academics agree. Research shows that there is no credible evidence that safer gambling messages reduce gambling – no wonder the industry is so happy to spray them all over their products.
Addiction is the gambling industry’s business model. Sixty per cent of the gambling industry’s profits come from the 5 per cent of its customers who are addicted or at risk of addiction, and for online gambling that rises to 86 per cent of profits from just 5 per cent of customers. The gambling industry has the data to intervene to help people, but time and again it chooses to induce them to gamble more through plying them with aggressive marketing, free bets and other incentives.
None of this is mentioned during Safer Gambling Week of course. All the safer gambling messages have one thing in common – they focus on you – the individual: YOU should set limits on YOUR gambling. YOU should take time to think. YOU shouldn’t gamble when YOU’RE angry. What other industry would patronise its customers in this way and treat them with such disdain?
Research shows that there is no credible evidence that safer gambling messages reduce gambling
And here lies the true purpose of all this: to obscure the role of the gambling industry’s highly addictive products and predatory practices and to shift the blame for addiction onto the individual. If it was truly about making gambling safer the narrative would be staggeringly different.
The cynical distortion to protect profits is bad enough, but its impact on individuals is darker still. By saying the problem is with you, you should be having fun, and the industry is playing no role in your misery, they are stigmatising a psychological disorder and distorting its causes, heaping shame, self-blame and confusion on people who have been addicted to gambling. At Gambling with Lives we know what this can lead to. We read the suicide notes.
This year the stakes couldn’t be higher given the Government’s review of the Gambling Act. If the industry is allowed to set the narrative then the policy implications should concern us all. It’s particularly worrying therefore that the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission, sees fit to back Safer Gambling Week. A regulator should be setting the agenda to improve safety for the industry that they regulate – not the other way round.
So what is the alternative? What’s needed, and what Safer Gambling Week obstructs, is a full public health approach to gambling. This would include strengthening regulation for the highest risk products – making them safer – and changing forever the practices of the industry, ending gambling advertising and inducements to gamble, enacting affordability checks for gamblers, and bringing in a statutory levy to fund independent research, prevention and treatment.
If the Government cuts through the Safer Gambling smokescreen and gets the review of the Gambling Act right then we may not have to witness the uncomfortable industry contortions again next year. The gambling industry should take time to think about that.
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