Ronnie Cowan MP: Gambling companies have a callous disregard for the welfare of their customers that is tantamount to gross negligence
Scottish National Party MP Ronnie Cowan writes ahead of his Westminster Hall debate today on Gambling-related harm.
When we think of harm that can be caused by drugs, alcohol and tobacco we may have very specific ideas of what that harm looks like.
When it comes to gambling, the harm may not be obvious. But it’s there.
The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) propose the following definition of gambling related harm should be used in British policy and practice.
“Gambling-related harms are the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. “
Debt incurred from gambling creates instability, insecurity and can lead to bankruptcy and in the extreme, result in criminal activities.
Relationships can be disrupted and often leads to emotional and social isolation. This can lead to mistrust and erodes cohesive relationships.
The consequences can include psychological distress such as feelings of shame, stigma and guilt. Anxiety levels increase, depression and even suicide can be the final outcome.
According to Gambling with Lives, around 4-11% of suicides were related to gambling, the equivalent to 250-620 deaths per year in the UK.
These figures are based on research carried out by Paul Wong, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2010) and research from Louis Appleby at the University of Manchester (2017).
The harm is real and it is growing while the research and support is massively underfunded.
Currently the industry pays a voluntary levy which raises around 10 to maybe 14 million pounds a year. That money is used to fund support for problematic gamblers and campaigns to educate and hopefully reduce harm.
The total gross gambling yield for Great Britain between April 2017 and March 2018 was £14.4 billion, a 4.5% increase from the previous year. The annual sum which gambling firms win from their customers has risen by 65% since the Gambling Act 2005 (came into force 2007).
A statutory levy of 1% would guarantee 140 million pounds a year and that sort of money, in the right hands, could do some good.
Additionally, because it is voluntary, the amount raised can vary from year to year and therefore budgeting for long term treatment is extremely precarious.
Let me be clear, I am not asking for financial recompense from gambling companies just to improve their public image.
A sponsorship deal here and a charitable donation there. These are no more than fig leaves to hide their own embarrassment. And they should be embarrassed.
How can you recompense a family that have lost their son? Or a child that has lost their father. I am not asking for token gestures.
I am asking gambling companies to stop doing the damage in the first place. Rather than just asking punters to gamble responsibly, run your organisations responsibly.
And while we are talking about responsible working practices, companies are gathering data pertaining to the habits of online gamblers. And astonishingly they are closing down accounts of people who are successful and winning, even very small amounts, while targeting and encouraging vulnerable gamblers that are losing to continue.
This callous disregard for the welfare of their customers is tantamount to gross negligence.
And where to start when it comes to advertising?
Live televised sporting events are swamped with betting adverts and inducements. The impression is given that the sporting event in its own right is not sufficient entertainment unless we take a punt on the outcome.
And while punters are being encouraged at every turn, the ease with which gamblers can sign up to an online operator is of great concern.
Punters can gamble twenty four seven and 365 days a year. There is no cooling off period.
Credit cards, pay pal accounts and phone accounts are accepted as a means of payment.
To make it perfectly blunt the gambling companies have stacked the odds against the punters and the damage that is being done needs to be redressed.
Ronnie Cowan is the SNP MP for Inverclyde & Vice-chair of All-party parliamentary group on Gambling related harm