Research flaws, harm dangers, advertising questions – Tom Watson takes a stand

Posted On: 
27th September 2017

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling assesses recent developments around gambling, betting shops and fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).


As the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has called out the misuse of statistics by Boris Johnson, and with DCMS and the Gambling Commission assessing the recent NatCen “Gambling Behaviour 2015”, now is a good time to reflect on that report.

It should come with a clear caveat explaining that the data is a lagging indicator as it was obtained in 2015. It is based on self-reporting, so is likely to be biased towards under-reporting. As well as this, the contact methodology does not ensure accurate representation of the demographic profile at all activities, particularly FOBTs. Incorporating the data collection into the Health Survey and restricting behavioural questions has resulted in a less complete picture than that obtained in prior British Gambling Prevalence Surveys (BGPS).

The Gambling Commission is finally speaking about the need for safer gambling products, moving away from the historical position that harmful gambling is solely a result of ‘faulty individuals’ who need to regulate their behaviour, rather than harmful products that require better regulation. Official research should identify which activities are the most dangerous.

The BGPS, which government discontinued, was more behaviour-orientated and asked more questions. Based on frequency, period and spend questions, secondary research on BGPS 2010 estimated that problem gambler losses on FOBTs exceeded those of the losses of problem gamblers by several other major offline activities combined. It estimated that over 40% of FOBT losses were from vulnerable at-risk or problem gamblers.

The quantum of harm is the socio-economic cost per activity and per individual, with gambling harm being associated with debt and depression. The Guardian recently reported on “Britain’s debt hotspot: how Newham is making ends meet”. Newham is leading the 93 local authorities fighting against FOBTs under the SCA stake reduction proposal.

ONS data, summarised in “A matter of life and deaths”, a graphic in the i newspaper, shows that depression related behaviour, such as drug abuse, suicide and self-harm is increasing. For males in 1995 it was the leading cause of death in age group 25 to 34, but by 2005 that age group had grown to ages 20 to 39, and by 2015 it had grown even further to 15 to 44.

Of course, there are multiple factors. But given estimates that one in five problem gamblers attempt suicide, gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling among young men has increased, and with 2 million people falling into the at-risk category, it would be wrong to suggest there has not been an increase in gambling related harm.

“Advertising watchdog questions gambling policy” was a Financial Times headline quoting Lord David Currie, new head of the ASA, and now current head of the CMA, which is currently investigating TV gambling ads. He stated “…this is the big issue here… because of that liberalisation… [of gambling]”.

A New York Times article “42 minutes, £2,600 lost: The UK’s growing gambling problem” explained that “the configuration of FOBTs is unique to Britain…”. For gambling ads and content, no other country has such a weak political and regulatory system as the UK!

Whatever your views on Uber and the TfL license dispute, everyone can agree that if Uber wins the appeal, it will have been forced into a much more socially responsible approach as a result. If only the Gambling Commission had a little of what TfL has. Violence against FOBTs is based on addictive FOBT content. Bookies arguably hide statistics on this gambling associated crime, whilst the “responsible” gambling establishment ignores it. A murder and an attempted murder of lone working staff by FOBT addicts in Ladbrokes shops is a consequence of the denial of FOBT violence.

Like our campaign consultant Matt Zarb-Cousin, listed this week as the 29th most influential person on the left, Tom Watson, Labour Deputy Leader, knows what a disaster the 2005 Gambling Act has been. At conference, he announced that gambling harm should be treated as other addictions are, and the appropriate mental health resources allocated to dealing with it. Accordingly, treatment should be provided under the NHS and gambling operators should provide funding. Labour will win popular support for taking on vested gambling interests, the deceptive ads, the affiliates and the sham of “responsible” gambling.