To those of us who enjoy a flutter on the Grand National, usually attracted by names rather than form, gambling can seem like a bit of fun.
But this is gambling’s biggest danger because what seems like a bit of fun can turn into an addiction capable of destroying lives.
It is described as a leisure pastime and we are surrounded by signals which seem to legitimise it – from the Saturday night drama of the National Lottery, with celebrities encouraging us to dream of becoming overnight millionaires, to witty television adverts.
In such ways gambling is normalised.
But how many of us would admit or recognise that our gambling is becoming a problem?
It is depressing to learn Scotland has the most frequent gamblers in the UK. Sadly, it is a mug’s game. Even though punters might know a fruit machine is programmed to pay out only 70 per cent of takings, the addict believes odds can be defied.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals are a real threat to the poor and vulnerable, who desperately seek a windfall but are more likely to get deeper into financial trouble. MSPs are right to call for them to be restricted, but that would not solve the problem. Online gambling from home, encouraged by attractive “introductory rates”, exacerbates the problem. At least when bookmakers shut their doors at 5pm, the punter chasing his losses had to stop.
We can’t close down gambling, so we need to take measures which helps to change attitudes. TV adverts for cigarettes were banned many years ago. It is time to look at restricting the onslaught of online gambling advertisements on our screens.