‘Responsible gambling’ is a contradictory marketing slogan that should fool no-one, least of all the Samaritans, writes Kevan Christie.
Today folks we’re going to talk about gambling and I’ve set you all a question.
Is it possible to gamble responsibly?
The issue has been in the news recently with the link-up between those cheeky chappies at Paddy Power Betfair and the Samaritans, with the betting giant choosing the organisation aimed at preventing suicide as their charity of the year.
Paddy Power Betfair, who are all about the banter and taking your money, once drove a lorry to Calais, adorned with the slogan: Immigrants, jump in the back! (But only if you’re good at sport). Proper bantz as the kids might say and, of course, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
But critics, including relatives of people with gambling problems who took their own lives, say the Samaritans is risking its reputation by working with the firm.
Both organisations say the Samaritans’ insight and expertise will help Paddy Power Betfair improve how it helps vulnerable customers and the partnership involves fundraising, corporate donation and volunteering.
I’m with the critics on this one. Like all the betting giants, Paddy Power Betfair get to tick the box marked ‘we care’ while continuing to trouser lorry-loads of cash – that’s if the lorries aren’t full of immigrants, who are good at sports.
I can understand the Samaritans working with the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission, but to join forces with an individual company is wrong and facilitates the lip-service they pay to the human cost of addiction.
At the last count, the total gross gambling yield for the industry in the UK was £14.5 billion, with more than 8,000 betting shops operating in the UK.
There are over two million adults at risk or classed as problem gamblers, with gambling on a par with alcoholism in terms of the damage caused by addiction.
A long and bitter political battle eventually saw the maximum stake that can be played on fixed-odds betting terminals cut from £100 to £2. These machines have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling and provide around half of bookmakers’ high-street revenue.
Anyone who’s been in a bookies knows it’s a grim, male-dominated world where you often have to ask for a key to the toilet but they give you free pens.
Now, I like a bet as much as the next marine but it’s got to the stage where people can’t watch a game of football without having at least three on the go at one time.
I’ve fallen into this trap and like nothing more than spending a Sunday afternoon on the sofa, hooked to a giant chocolate button drip, watching football – never call it footy – on Sky Sports from ‘The Prem’.
I try not to spend anymore than a tenner on this mainly pointless pursuit and always vow to never go there again.
This reminds me of hungover post-mortems I used to have with mates after our weekly Saturday night out at Buster Brown’s discotheque in Edinburgh.
“That’s it – I’m no going up the toon next week – saving money for the summer holidays.”
My usual bet consists of a combination of goals scored, bookings administered, corners taken and whether a fox will run on to the pitch in the second half.
This usually gives me odds of around 12,000-1 and I’ll lob the dosh on through my account and spend the next couple of hours working out what I’m going to spend the rest of my winnings on once I’ve cleared some debt.
Dobbies’ traybakes, family-sized lasagnes from M&S and some new garden tools for the wife dominate my thoughts, but this normally ends in salty tears with my dream bubble bursts for another week.
At least since I stopped going to the pub, I no longer have to endure the painful betting chat. Someone telling you about their 10-team accumulator and how they were only five minutes away from winning ‘thousands’ before cashing out for 21p. I apologise if this jargon escapes you – trust me, you don’t want to learn it and you’re missing nowt.
It’s right up there in the snooze stakes with a golf bore telling you how his whole round went in the Tuesday medal – bogey, bogey, par, double bogey and how he took three shots to get out of bunker at the 12th.
There are other more benign forms of gambling like the bingo and the lottery but these are more about chance whereas betting on football allows folk to fall into the trap of believing they have knowledge of the sport and are effectively just ‘buying money’.
So, back to the question that I set you all at the start. Is it possible to gamble responsibly? Of course not, there’s no such thing – the concept does not exist – it’s nonsense.
The clues in the word ‘gamble’, meaning to take a risky action in the hope of a desired result. The betting companies have spent a fortune on their ‘Responsible Gambling’ and ‘BeGambleAware’ campaigns with advertising slogan like “When the fun stops, stop” and in-built tools on sites, like cooling-off periods and deposit limits.
But, the slogans are at the bottom of the page and no-one rushing to place a bet is going to pay these any notice. They’ve got their talons well and truly into football. The top league in Scotland is the Ladbrokes Premiership and the William Hill Scottish Cup has taken a bit of the romance out of the Cup because the clubs need the tainted money to survive.
So far, women’s football has managed to avoid the lure of the bookies chequebook and they’ve not gone near that other devil plaguing our national sport – the drinks giant.
Of course, the way to get the better of the bookies is to say “No, no, no, no, no!” to Sexy Beast Ray Winstone and his chronic betting come-ons.
If you choose not to gamble and, heaven forbid, have to watch the football bet-free, without a safety net, then there’s nothing the betting companies can do and you win ... for once.