We must now change the terms of the gambling debate
Labour MP Chris Evans calls for an independent review of the gambling sector hearing from betting companies, lottery operators, internet providers, the anti-gambling lobby and the NHS.
Anyone who watches sport regularly will have enjoyed a bet at some point in their lives. Placing a bet on a football match or a big race, quickens the pulse and makes things more exciting. Most people see betting as a bit of fun. Although for some people it can spiral out of control.
Problem gambling can wreck lives, causing family break-up’s and, in the most extreme circumstances, can lead to criminal activity.
The NHS estimate there are 593,000 problem gamblers in the UK. The perception many of us will wrongly have of this group, is one of men, who spend all day in high street betting shops blowing their job seekers allowance on noisy machines. However, the NHS says there has been a marked increase in the numbers of women gamblers, playing bingo and other internet games from the comfort of their own homes.
The explosion of the internet over the past 20 years has made it easier to gamble than ever before. Those who fancy a flutter no longer have to visit the bookie’s or go to the bingo hall; there are opportunities all over the web to bet on roulette, bingo and sports from all over the world 24 hours a day. This invariably has led to an increase in gambling addiction and, as a result, there is a clear need to have a sensible debate about this.
Unfortunately, the current debate has been dominated by Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), called the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling, sited in betting shops up and down the country. There are some who will argue if these machines are banned then problem gambling will come to an end.
Focusing too narrowly on one element like FOBTs does problem gamblers a disservice. Yes, the machine’s maximum bet should be lowered and yes, there should be an enforced time delay between plays.
However, it is much more complicated than that. Research has shown problem gamblers are likely to be using as many as eight different products to feed their addiction. According to the NHS, problem gamblers are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, stress, anxiety, depression and be alcoholics. It is these underlying causes we need to be focusing on.
That is why it is time to transform the debate around problem gambling. The current relationship between the anti-gambling lobbying and the betting industry is so toxic, constructive communication is almost impossible. An independent review needs to be commissioned into the link between addiction and mental health.
This review must be all encompassing. It must include the betting companies, lottery operators, internet providers, the anti-gambling lobby as well as the NHS and mental health experts. It must devise recommendations the whole industry can agree and act upon.
A review will also promote a greater understanding of how addiction and mental health is linked and therefore how it can best be treated. The present debate is going around in circles, with a greater understanding of the underlying issues, the terms of the debate can be changed and help those who need it most.
Chris Evans is the Labour Member of Parliament for Islwyn