The silent epidemic: Regulators fight back against gambling addiction

A betting shop. Picture: Ian Georgeson
A betting shop. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A national watchdog has launched its new strategy to reduce gambling harm in Scotland with a shift in emphasis away from the customer towards the industry taking greater responsibility.

The Gambling Commission, which regulates commercial gambling for the whole of the UK, will work closely with health bodies, charities, regulators and businesses with a three-year strategy aimed at tackling the problem.

It is continuing to call for action on two strategic priority areas – prevention and education – with a clear public health plan that includes the right mix of interventions.

At present the total gross gambling yield for the industry in the UK is £14.5 billion, with more than 8,000 betting shops operating in the UK.

Bill Moyes, chairman of the Gambling Commission, said the new strategy marked a shift in emphasis away from the onus being on the individual gambler to take responsibility towards greater recognition from the industry of the part they have to play.

He said: “The designers of games, for example, who help gamblers play the machines can build messages into the design that says to players that they need to take a break, you’ve lost so much or if you play this way you’re going to lose.

“Similarly, for the operators, they do a bit, but nothing like enough to give messages to players that say ‘you’re getting into dangerous territory, you need to stop, do you realise this is where you’re at?’

“That’s the kind of thing that we are really wanting to corral the operators into doing.

“Increasingly we want to see heavily researched work done and we want to see initiatives that don’t work dropped. We don’t just want people doing stuff for the sake of it and we want to see operators taking steps that are known to be effective to identify problem gamblers, to get messages across to them.”

The commission wants to discuss introducing curbs on firms to stop them targeting problem gamblers or potential gamblers with marketing materials or making them VIP members.

Tim Miller (right), executive director of the Gambling Commission, outlined the complex nature of the addiction, with more than two million adults in the UK at risk or classed as problem gamblers – 89 per cent are male.

He said: “One of the unique differences about gambling and people who are addicted to gambling is that, for many with addiction, they think the way out of the problem is to do more of the thing that they’re addicted to.

“If you’re addicted to alcohol, the way you get better is not by drinking more alcohol.

“If you’re addicted to gambling and got yourself into debt, you can understand why people might think their way out of that is to gamble more and then they’ll be able to stop.

“That’s why gambling is a complex addiction and it’s why we’re not just approaching this from a regulatory viewpoint. We’re approaching it by working with health bodies, local government and others.”

The Edinburgh launch was accompanied by similar events to unveil the new strategy in London and Cardiff.

Moyes said: “The new strategy will provide us and our partners across Scotland the opportunity to make faster progress to reduce gambling harms. It will address not only the harms experienced by people who gamble, but will also focus upon the impact that can be felt by friends, family and the wider community.

“The success of this strategy relies on everyone working together to reduce gambling harms through prevention and education, and treatment and support. I’m delighted that those within Scotland’s health, charity and business sectors are showing their commitment to making the strategy a success. We all need to better understand the harms that can be caused by gambling, moving away from simply counting problem gamblers, and instead build a greater understanding of the harms experienced.”

A spokesperson for the bookmakers William Hill said: “We are a leading funder of GambleAware and support a range of safer gambling activities.

“We are pro-actively engaging with other gambling companies and relevant stakeholders on assessing treatment needs and increased future provision and will update on future plans once that process is complete.

“We also note the NHS plans to prioritise treatment of addictive gambling and the industry already supports this through its £3 billion annual tax contribution.”

The Scottish Government says it continues to argue for full devolution powers related to gambling.

A spokesperson said: “We welcome and support the Gambling Commission’s strategy to reduce the harms associated with gambling, including their plans to build a greater understanding of the harms experienced.”

NUMBERS GAME

Over 2 million

The number of adults in the UK are at risk or classed as problem gamblers

89 per cent

Of these problem gamblers are male

55,000

The number of children and young people that are problem gamblers

8,000

The number of people in 2017/18 received treatment through GambleAware-funded services