Donald Morrison: Problem gambling levels are low but bookies are working to reduce them further.

The Scottish Health Survey is a barometer for the health of the nation. It records how we are faring in terms of ­physical and mental health and charts progress in ­tackling some of the most pressing health challenges, including ­smoking, obesity, alcohol misuse and problem gambling.
High street bookmakers are running their regular Responsible Gambling Week in NovemberHigh street bookmakers are running their regular Responsible Gambling Week in November
High street bookmakers are running their regular Responsible Gambling Week in November

A majority of Scots enjoy a flutter. According to the Scottish Health Survey 2017, around 63 per cent of adults in ­Scotland gambled in the last 12 months, higher than comparative figures for England and Wales.

The National Lottery is the most popular gambling activity in Scotland, played by 46 per cent, ­followed by scratch cards (22 per cent), other lotteries (17 per cent), horse racing (11 per cent) and online betting (10 per cent). Only 3 per cent played gaming machines in betting shops.

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The latest study shows that 0.8 per cent of adults in Scotland were ­problem gamblers. That figure – comparable with the UK average – has remained essentially static in recent years, despite the introduction of new products and technologies that make gambling more accessible.

Donald Morrison, Association of British BookmakersDonald Morrison, Association of British Bookmakers
Donald Morrison, Association of British Bookmakers

That is a source of comfort, but not complacency, for high street bookmakers. It is still too high, and a reminder that the industry must do more to tackle problem gambling.Betting shops have long been at the forefront of driving the responsible gambling agenda. The Association of British Bookmakers, which ­represents around 80 per cent of high street bookmakers, introduced its first Code of Conduct for Responsible Gambling more than five years ago.

Since then, new safeguards have been introduced into betting shops, including player awareness systems that allow trained shop staff to monitor player activity and intervene where necessary. The industry has also stepped up its activity through ­educational programmes for young people, responsible gambling ­campaigns and counselling support for those most at risk.

Next month, every betting shop in Scotland will take part in Responsible Gambling Week, a cross industry campaign covering online, amusement arcades, bingo clubs, bookmakers and casinos in the UK and Ireland.

For years, betting shops led the way with their own Gamble Aware Week initiative but it’s right that the sector comes together to raise awareness, not least because research shows that many ­gamblers play multiple ­products – problem ­gambling isn’t confined to one.

Over 1-7 November, around 1,000 betting shops in Scotland will carry posters and leaflets promoting the responsible gambling message and Scotland’s 5,000 betting shop staff will signpost customers to the relevant advice networks.

Responsible Gambling Week is one of the most important events in the industry’s calendar and our members give it their full backing. But, equally, we understand that tackling problem gambling doesn’t happen over the course of one week.

Earlier this year, Philip Bowcock, the chief executive of William Hill, launched a new approach to tackling problem gambling.

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“In the past, we have fallen short on this issue,” he acknowledged. “We must recognise the hidden side of gambling and get much better at helping our customers stay safe, in shops and online. Society expects it, our customers need it, and a sustainable future for William Hill depends on it.”

His response was Nobody Harmed, a long term strategy to better understand and respond to problem gambling. The new approach will harness new technology and the expertise of shop staff to identify people at risk and strengthen support for those who do experience harm. This isn’t a flash in the pan campaign; William Hill is in it for the long term.

Equally, Ladbrokes Coral, the largest sponsor of Scottish football, has been working closely with the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) to develop a new responsible gambling campaign to be launched next month. The links between sport and betting are long established; by utilising its sponsorship of the SPFL, Ladbrokes Coral aims to promote its message of responsible gambling to football fans across the country.

The vast majority of people gamble without it ever becoming a problem. We can take some comfort from the fact that levels of problem gambling have remained statistically stable over recent years.

However, we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball. We must continue to focus on driving down levels of problem gambling and provide a safety net for those at risk. Initiatives like Nobody Harmed and the SPFL football campaign show that bookmakers are rising to the challenge.

For confidential advice, contact GamCare on 0808 8020 133 or visit

Donald Morrison, Association of British Bookmakers.

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