ATTEMPTS to tackle the epidemic of problem gambling will “continue to fail” unless the Scottish Government stops “tiptoeing” around the issue and recognises its devastating impact on public health, according to the treasurer of the nation’s largest local authority.
Paul Rooney, a senior member of the administration at Glasgow City Council, has cautioned that existing policies are tantamount to guesswork and accused those in power of having “little interest” in asking how problem gambling can be curbed.
He has called on the government to establish a new commission to examine the impact of problem gambling across the country and better inform a public policy response.
Despite proposals at Westminster and Holyrood to tackle the scourge of fixed odds betting terminals (Fibots), Rooney says the potential of any legislative change will be limited and will not touch upon major concerns such as public health, regulation and the community impact of problem gambling.
The Scottish Parliament’s committee on local government and regeneration is currently considering how best to address the proliferation of Fibots in betting shops, with a call for written evidence closing last week.
Rooney is an outspoken critic of the machines – which let gamblers play games including roulette, poker and virtual racing – and the impact they are having in the Glasgow area. Last year, research by a cross-party council sounding board found more than £500,000 is ploughed into around 800 machines in just over 200 city betting shops every day.
Glaswegians using Fibots to play roulette and other casino games each place a new bet on average every 35 seconds during sessions that last a little over seven minutes – typically staking more than £12 on each spin. The research showed that some 5 per cent of Fibot bets made in the city risk a stake of more than £50.
Rooney said: “Problem gambling is a serious public health issue with devastating consequences. We need to waken up to that fact.
“Although many of us can recognise that gambling disorders have obvious financial implications for individuals, far less is understood about the toll on their physical and mental health and the lives of those around them.
“There are fundamental issues for families – for example, domestic violence and increased emotional, behavioural and substance abuse problems among children – and there is a broad impact on wider society in terms of everything from crime to employment.”
The Scottish Parliament is studying two different proposals – one under clause 45 of the Scotland Bill, which would allow Scottish ministers to reduce the number of Fibots in new premises, and one from the Scottish Government, which would extend that power to existing shops.
However, Glasgow City Council says the proposed powers will only be effective if they are devolved to local communities along with greater control over how to deal with betting shops via planning and licensing legislation.
Rooney added: “As a country, we have been tiptoeing around these issues for years. Too many people with responsibilities to the communities, families and individuals suffering right now appear to have little interest in even asking the questions.
“Without a better understanding of what influences problem gambling…public policy will continue to be based on well-intentioned guesswork and it will continue to fail.”