Donald Morrison: Scottish bookmakers are backing a scheme to save lives

Donald Morrison, public affairs and media relations, Association of British Bookmakers.
Donald Morrison, public affairs and media relations, Association of British Bookmakers.
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A lot of people think the bookmakers is a den of iniquity. It’s not like that.”

After 20 years working in betting shops across Glasgow, Diane Francis – a manager with Ladbrokes Coral – knows her regular customers well. “We’re very much community-based, we build relationships within communities and we tend to have relationships where we can keep an eye on our customers, particularly our older ones.”

Gambling critics might baulk at the notion of the local bookie rooted in the local community, but the reality is that many communities have lost their local library, pub or burgh hall. Increasingly, people are becoming excluded, particularly older people. For many, the local bookie is a safe place to bet, meet friends and watch live racing. “Our staff are very passionate about promoting responsible gambling, and they really care about their customers. The local bookie is part of their daily routine. It’s a meeting place,” says Tracey Campbell, an area manager with William Hill.

Tracey is responsible for 56 shops and 270 staff in Glasgow, East Renfrewshire and Inverclyde. Commerciality is a big part of her job, but so is community. She and her colleagues regularly volunteer at Starter Packs, a charity in Govan that provides essential household goods for previously homeless people who have found new homes. Staff help however they can, sorting out clothes and household items, redecorating the charity’s shop or raising funds in shops.

This year, Tracey and more than 100 of her William Hill colleagues, will take part in one of the country’s biggest charity challenges, the Kiltwalk, walking over 25 miles in support of Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland. In fact, Tracey and a hardy few will take part in four Kiltwalk challenges this year, completing over 100 miles in an attempt to raise more than £6,000 for the charity.

This sense of community spirit is alive across the industry. In 2017, shop staff from Ladbrokes Coral, the UK’s largest retail bookmaker, raised thousands of pounds for the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow.

Following a marathon run of fund-raising events, including quiz nights, collection tins in shops and sponsored walks, shop teams from Glasgow and surrounding areas secured a massive £35,000 for much-needed equipment. In Edinburgh, Ladbrokes Coral teams raised a further £4,000 for the Capital’s ‘Sick Kids’ hospital through a variety of fund-raising efforts.

Betting shops have also helped fund and support responsible gambling campaigns, including a neighbourhood campaign in Inverness and a six-month project in Scottish schools and youth groups to highlight the risks associated with problem gambling.

So, far from being “dens of iniquity” betting shops are, in fact, very much part of the community they serve, providing a fun and friendly social hub, particularly for those who feel isolated, and raising funds and volunteering for those in need.

Betting shops have felt the pinch in recent years as consumers increasingly opt to bet on other forms of gambling. But with a retail estate of almost 1,000 shops in Scotland, attracting around 650,000 customers a year, they still serve a great many people.

In the coming months, a new community initiative is being launched that could help save the lives of some of those customers.

Prostate cancer is a disease that affects one in eight men in the UK, typically men over 50, men with a family history of the disease, and black men.

Given the age profile of many of our customers, this is a disease that has particular relevance to our staff and customers. So, over the past few months, ABB Scotland has been working with Prostate Cancer UK’s team in Scotland to encourage bookmakers to open their doors to the charity. The response has been superb, with one of Scotland’s largest bookmakers already committed, and others likely to follow suit. From May until August, every one of William Hill’s 310 shops in Scotland will carry the charity’s health information and fund-raising material.

Volunteers from the charity, many of whom have lived with the disease, will go into shops and talk to customers and staff about their own experience.

And, to ensure the campaign has a long-term legacy, shop staff will receive training from the charity to enable them to have potentially life-saving conversations with their customers.

Over 3,000 men in Scotland were diagnosed with prostate cancer and almost 1,000 died of the disease in 2015. Worryingly, the latest research shows that four in ten cases is diagnosed late.

Early diagnosis and treatment is vital, so partnerships such as this are essential to help raise awareness.

If, at the end of this campaign, we have encouraged just one of our customers to see his GP, we can judge it a success.

Donald Morrison, public affairs and media relations, Association of British Bookmakers