Brass tacks: a reasonable summary of demands to address gambling harms

The above is from Gambling with Lives new website. While they have done so much to raise awareness of the horrible connections between gambling and suicide, their five points are broadly shared across all sectors which campaign to reduce harms.

It is important to see product design at the top of the list. The idea of harmful products. Probably known to many, the classic book by Natasha Dow Schull based on many years of research among the players and businesses of Las Vegas casinos is titled Addiction by Design.

Many other researchers, independent of industry influence, have provided evidence of how digital gambling devices are designed to exploit psychological factors. This crucial element is often downplayed or simply ignored by certain stakeholders, including, of course, industry.

There is a struggle between narratives about gambling harms. There are several such narratives but each reflects two important ones

On one side is the preferred industry narrative which emphasises personal responsibility and ‘educating’ people towards ‘safe gambling’. Industry-funded education is a key method of fulfilling industry’s stated firm desire to minimise gambling harms. Industry does also promote player protection via exclusion schemes, affordanility checks and monitoring, yet the efficacy of these is not agreed by everybody, and there are regular reports of protection failures. Not unlike many industries, advertising – including micromarketing through social media – is seen to provide individuals with choice and alert them to offers and exciting new products. Sponsorship, especially in football, is claimed to support the financial wellbeing of clubs. As a whole, industry points out how many people are employed, the tax yield to the state, and how vital it is to fund animal racing. The industry warns that increased regulation will push people into ‘black markets’. Industry cites figures which purport to show a decrease in the number of what they refer to as ‘problem gamblers’. Industry opposes calls for a 1% statuary levy on profits by claiming that the charities it funds are in the best position to provide treatment, arguing that the NHS has no experience in this area. It celebrates its funding of education for young people, and sees no need for independent academic research to evaluate both the quality of such initiatives and the emphasis upon education as a prime bulwark against gambling harms.

On the other side, while some of this agenda is agreed, there are calls for much tighter work in each area. Product design and incessant marketing are stressed over ‘personal responsibility’. Here, a pubic health approach is advocated similar to that in the area of other ‘commercial determinants of health’ whereby regulation covers the whole population, bypassing any reference to individual behaviours. There is implicit in the debate a foundational difference between an ideology which stresses personal responsibility. ‘freedom’,  and minimal (nanny) state intererference, against the position that sees social, cultural and economic factors as inseparable from an individual’s life. Contributors to calls similar to Gambling with Lives demands are to be found in the establishments of medicine, psychiatry, social work, the judiciary sytem, academia, and the groundswell of organisations led by people with lived experience.

Writing a sponsored piece in Conservative Home, the Chairman (sic) of the Betting and Gaming Council, Brigid Simmons OBE. begins her article arguing against a statutory levy with the words, “Far too often emotion, instead of evidence, drives the debate around betting and gaming in the UK.” This point of view mirrors another senior BGC figure who enjoys using such phrases as ‘Sunday school prohibitionists’. There is something odd about suggesting that some of the finest brains in the UK and the world have mistake emotional outpourings for rigorous evidence. In fact, while it is possible that there are people who want to abolish gambling, calls for reform demand intelligent debate rather than blanket dismissal  of all who have identified realistic, specific recommendations for reform, each one of which is based on evidence rather than  sponsored emotional rhetoric.




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