Gambling tycoons getting rich on misery of others is a sign of the times – Kenny MacAskill

The rise of internet gambling means people no longer need to visit casinos or betting shops (Picture: Kin Cheung/AP)
The rise of internet gambling means people no longer need to visit casinos or betting shops (Picture: Kin Cheung/AP)
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Gambling has been normalised as governments have failed to respond to the dangers on betting online, writes Kenny MacAskill.

The curse of gambling has struck another football figure with the Hamilton Accies manager facing charges. He’s not the first and won’t be the last despite strict guidelines from football authorities. Sadly, it seems a culture amongst many in the game, along with a love of golf.

The game’s supremos though aren’t blameless as they’ve allowed gambling to replace alcohol as the sport’s principal sponsor. It’s almost impossible to watch a major fixture now, whether you’re pitch side or watching on the telly, without wall-to-wall intrusion from the betting industry. Shirt logos, trackside advertising, competition sponsorship or interval ads all seem to blast out ‘bet now and bet often’.

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Focus is on the sport because of the well-known characters and their travails. However, to be fair to all in the game, whether the responsible authorities or recalcitrant individuals, it’s a wider societal issue. For gambling has become normalised and, along with alcohol and drugs, this social ill has been allowed to develop.

Now that’s not to say that gambling’s immoral or wrong in any way. Each to their own, I say, and though I’ve never placed a bet I buy raffle tickets and know many who enjoy and wager or flutter. It’s perfectly reasonable and perfectly normal and, as with other addictions, it’s when it’s taken to extremes that the problem arises.

Part of daily routine

But as gambling has changed, the regulations haven’t moved with it though – and therein lies the problem. Alcohol and drugs, even cigarettes, are tightly regulated in sale and promotion but gambling is almost running free.

Is it any wonder that young people I know consider it routine to place a bet on the way to work, as others buy a latte, when betting shops are on every corner enticing you in? Long gone are the forbidden and even foreboding bookies of old where many people feared to venture, either from an almost intimidatory atmosphere or just social opprobrium that might follow.

However, as in other walks of life, it’s the internet that’s changed everything. Now you don’t even need to get out your bed and head to work, as you can do it lying in your kip and on your phone.

As a result, the levels have increased, and the nature of who’s betting has changed. No more is it just wee men with flat bunnets, now it’s women and all ages and classes. The amount of what you can bet has increased exponentially as the restrictions of available cash are changed by available credit.

Consequently, the social casualties have increased and not just on the football field. I’ve a close relative who works in the fraud department of a major bank. He tells me that numerous claims are made by desperate people, many are women who have got into difficulties through gambling. The cause of their woe though isn’t fraud by others but expenditure by them. It’s evident for staff to see as the screens display accounts and expenditure of months and years and their pitiful plea fall on deaf ears.

Getting rich on misery

But it’s an addiction that’s been fuelled and to which they have succumbed as others have to drink or drugs. They need help not just to stop but from getting into harm in the first place and that’s where government has failed.

The betting industry has got rich on the misery of others. The most nauseating example of that was Denise Coates, the chief executive of Bet365, who last year was paid a staggering and UK-record corporate salary of £323 million. Even the firm name’s testifies to the normalisation of a pastime that never stops even for holidays or when it’s outwith office hours. For sure, shops and venues such as racecourses are heavily regulated but that’s rarely where the problem lies now, and the regulatory regime hasn’t followed.

Online gambling, like online shopping, appears to be the law of the jungle. Multinationals exploiting everyone, whether staff or punter, paying their executives fat salaries, yet diddly squat in tax.

Action needs to be taken but in doing so we need to know the extent of the problem. Some information is out there but much isn’t. We record crimes that are aggravated by alcohol or drugs, yet not those perpetrated by desperation through a gambling addiction. Doctors record afflictions linked to the former but rarely the anxiety or stress caused by the latter. Maybe it’s time we started doing that and taking other steps to understand the scale of the problem we face.

But some aren’t just getting rich on the cause but on the affliction, adding insult to injury. The owners of Betfred make millions from Government contracts including treating gambling addiction. They’re Tory party donors – would you bet there’s a link?