Nene Valley Rock Festival

While we are based in Scotland, we have many friends in the rest of the UK who are working hard to support each other in recovery from harms caused by gambling. Like them, we also campaign to challenge things that encourage gambling, such as advertising.

 

We are very pleased to help raise awareness and offer sources of support at the Nene Valley Rock Festival. If a thousand people gather there to enjoy the music, statistics suggest that 65 will either have their own pains from gambling or be affected by somebody else’s gambling. At the festival there will be support leaflets available. This has been co-ordinated by radio presenter Sylvia Fountain of Puritans Radio.

Sylvia is passionate about reducing gambling harms. After watching the film we made, One Last Spin, she asked the songwriter and performer Amanda Lehmann to write a song to go with it. Wonderfully, Amanda agreed and you can hear the beautiful song here. The music video was made by a Scottish charity called COPEScotland. You can read about how the song came about here. Visit Amanda’s homepage too – especially if you’re into top notch prog rock!

Sylvia will give out leaflets at the festival and you can also download them here. We are a two-person community interest company called The Machine Zone who stage events in Scotland. We also run websites. On Gambling Watch Scotland you will find a lot of interesting information. You’ll also find places to go to for support and here. Many of these are UK-wide.

Gambling harm is very common. It’s perhaps less spoken about than harms from alcohol and other drugs but every bit as serious. One thing that stops people from seeking support is stigma – shame and guilt can make life intolerable. But please know that there are many,many thousands who have sought help and overcome pains and difficulties. It may feel hard to seek help but when you do, you have completed at least half of the journey to recovery. This applies too if you are affected by somebody else’s gambling. It can be very lonely but you will soon find groups and organisations which contain people who know the hurts. You will be helped by their compassionate sharing, experience and care.

Concerns About Gambling Industry Funding: treatment and education

Concerns have been expressed about gambling treatment and education charities’ receiving industry funding via voluntary contributions. Some of these concerns are discussed below.

 

1. Some believe that financial association with the gambling industry is per se undesirable. This concern may be developed to include:

  • Claims for independence are compromised
  • Industry funding can be seen as industry’s way of taking seriously and tackling gambling related harms.
  • Related to the latter, organisations receiving industry funding may reproduce industry’s ‘dominant narrative’ – that only a small minority of people suffer harms from gambling. They are ‘the problem’ and there is an implied connotation of pathology.

2. Industry funded organisations may fail to highlight the significant role of industry in contributing to gambling harms, for instance through marketing, sponsorship, product design, and algorithmic data gathering and targeting of individuals including those in recovery.

 

3. There have been questions raised about the quality and effectiveness of educational programmes to reduce gambling related harms.

 

Against these concerns

 

1. Treament and education charities themselves call for independent funding such as through a statutory levy.

 

2. Without current funding there would be very little support for individuals. A person in distress doesn’t care where the money comes from if it helps them.

 

3. Education programmes do draw attention to industry tactics as major factors in the causation of gambling related harms.

 

4. There is no evidence of industry’s influencing the activities of funded organisations.

 

5. An organisation providing education or treatment has these as its remit, and nobody can argue that education and treatment are unimportant: both would be greatly diminished without current funding arrangements. Workers in these organisations are fully committed to day-to-day wotk in these areas. As noted, this does not prevent their highlighting industry failings.

 

Further contexts

 

At higher policy level Scotland lags far behind England and some initiatives in Wales. NHS England has 16 gambling clinics and one for young people. The Scottish government has recently set up a working party on gambling related harms. Glasgow has been working for some years on a multi-agency address to gambling harms, overseen by Glasgow City Council and Scotland Public Health to include a range of partners. Third Sector developments include Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm at the Alliance for Health and scial Care. Last year the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector awarded small grants to organisations across the city to implement community-based projects. Across Scotland, and within Glasgow, there continues to be locally devised work around gambling harms. There is also strong interest in substance recovery communities to develop attention to gambling harms recovery. Of course, Gamblers Anonymous and SMARTRecovery provide invaluable support for many. There are also UK-wide organisations such as GamLEARN offering online communities.

It remains that currently GamCare is the main treatment option for Glasgow and Edinburgh, and RCA Trust for the rest of Scotland.

 

Concluding comments

 

Concerns about voluntary industry funding have been expressed. Not everybody shares all – or any – of these concerns. All, though, have a strong desire to reduce gambling related harms. Within the field there are strong, sometimes polarised feelings. It may be helpful to see clear viewpoints and policy positions where relevant, particularly from industry-funded organisations. In fact, as we move towards a likely outcome of a statutory levy for funding research, education and treatment, underlying issues will remain. These boil down to the question of how much emphasis is given to education and treatment as primary drivers of harm prevention at the cost of diverting attention away from the current relative lack of focus upon industry’s role.

 

Gambling Watch Scotland: 2023 Review

2023 saw some developments in Scotland which indicate both action and policy formation to challenge gambling related harms.Overall it is realistic to say that this has been slow but authentic.

Action has been seen in third sector organisations. Citizens Advice Scotland, for example, continue to provide support and signposting to individuals facing harms. The Scottish Gambling Education Network has to some extent become a locus which connects many interested individuals and organisations as well as continuing its own work, frequently providing workshops in collaboration with others. Organisations across Scotland, from Dumfries to Orkney, have run initiatives for diverse communities connected with gambling. GambleAware and the RCA Trust remain the primary sources for treatment and tailored support, and both continue wider work with partners. One sector gathering momentum this year has been Simon Community Scotland which has a homelessness and gambling harms worker, and which has been very active in working with other organisations.

 

Our own work has been restricted to Glasgow (with the exception of an event in Inverclyde and proposed events in Argyll and Bute). A more detailed description of this is in a post on our site Glasgow City Gambling Harms. It is also worth checking out the summary reports of work in Glasgow from 2007. Essentially, we have been invited to show our film One Last Spin and engage audiences in discussion. Venues have included prison, community organisations, conferences, and most recently city council depots.

 

We are pleased to be involved in a workshop with medical students in January. Awareness training for students and doctors is important. As it is for many sectors. One important sector is existing substance recovery communities (gambling harms often accompany harms from substances) so we are delighted to have done a little work with Glasgow North West Recovery Communities. This brief overview is perhaps indicative of just some of the work that does or can go on in Scotland.

 

Glasgow is also at the forefront of slowly developing frameworks and policies that can inform Scotland. This work, led by Scotland Public Health and Glasgow City Council and multi-agencies has proceeded for more than a decade. The 2021 Glasgow Gambling Summit led to more focused work. (Again, the summary here provides some context). Most recently we have met Councillor Laura Doherty who leads the council’s work on gambling harms. She arranged a screening of our film with councillors. In November she spoke at our event in Easterhouse and spoke of some difficulties: one relates to the legal powers of councils; another to the common long lead-in times between policy and implementation. This reflects national difficulties: the Scottish government has limited devolved powers of gambling regulation/

 

At a conference to discuss the Gambling Act White Paper, in her introductory remarks Georgina Charlton, who leads Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm at the Alliance for Health and Social Care, also alluded to the slow rate of developments. The conference looked forward to a proportion of the proposed gambling industry levy coming to Scotland but some felt the amount would be spread very thin. Westminster Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group) is another who is sceptical about significant benefits accruing from the levy. He’s spoken at two of our events and others we’ve attended. His main focus is upon industry tactics – advertising, sponsorhsip, marketing and micro-marketing. This does raise a contentious issue. Is it possible that the agenda of much current work relegates the latter in prevention importance? A rhetorical question .

 

Connected to the wider picture, one may call for effective evaluation of such education and treatment/support services currently provided. The effeciveness of Gamblers Anonymous or SMART Recovery does need including in such a consideration with structured evidence methodology superceding anecdotes. Also contentious is the fact that GambleAware is currently funded by voluntary industry contributions. It is contentious not because we say so but because many involved say so. It should also be said in fairness to Gambling Aware that they have pressed for a compulsory levy, and also in fairness they have reached out to work with other organisations both third sector and statutory.

 

South of the border the NHS operates 15 gambling clinics plus one for children. There is no sign that NHS Scotland has such a move on the agenda, nor, as far as we know, much in the way of GP training. GP awareness and skills are particularly important as they are often the first port of call. Ideally, with knowledge of signposting to services such as CAB and the support of LINKS workers with their knowledge and networks, GPs would be alert to treating associated physical and mental health issues.

 

In Scotland there appear to be very few, if any, grassroots organisations led by people with lived experience of gambling harms. This contrasts sharply with the situation south of the border where many such organisations flourish. What we do see in Scotland are very active substance recovery communities, and one national organisation which works at grassroots and transmitting lived experience voices to government. It may be that one way of seeding lived experience gambling harms organisations is throuh such communities (and, as said, gambling harms will be inherent in such communities).

 

Finally, to emphasise the state of development at Scottish government level and NHS Scotland we can quite Jenni Minto, Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health in answer to a parliamentary question about NHS Scotland’s support for people facing gambling related harm (November 29):

 

People with gambling addiction in Scotland can get support through a range of services including those that are signposted on the NHS Inform website, primary care services and, where appropriate, mental health services in secondary care. We have established a gambling-related harms working group with Public Health Scotland to consider what needs to be prioritised in gambling harms research, prevention and treatment.

 

While it is encouraging to hear that a working group has been set up at government level, our impression is that it will take some time yet to establish the state of play that was recognised many years ago in reports from Scotland Public Health. Our own experience of meeting a different minister (on a Zoom event) is that she was happy to admit a lack of knowledge and was there to listen. While we would be pleased to be corrected, our understanding is that structured government knowledge and routes to policy are very limited at present, and probably diffused among ministerial responsibilities. There was, at the end of 2022, a briefing paper from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre about gambling harm as a public health challenge. (It does provide a useful concise overview). It states that apart from a mention in the government’s suicide prevention strategy, there are “no Scottish Government policies, strategies or plans” relating to gambling harms.

 

Yet a brief look backwards finds a 2014 Public Health report urging action in the face of gambling harms. It is not clear whether MSP Minto’s reply (above) is intended to imply that current treatment provision is adequate. What cannot be questioned is that the Scottish government has been advised for many earss about the need to take action in addressing gambling harms, including their prevention.

Glasgow University hosts the Gambling Research Group which includes Professor Gerda Reith (who appears in our film). Through the work of the academics there Glasgow is a world centre of research (and very open to community involvement). Following the 2005 Gambling Act Professor Reith prepared a paper for the Scottish Executive drawing attention specifically to the potential for expnasion of casinos but generally urging governmental attention to rising gambling related harms. That was published in 2006.

We asked ChatGPT: “What harms can gambling cause?”

As a first go with ChatGPT we asked:

 

What harms can gambling cause?

 

In less than a second it replied:

Gambling can cause a number of harms, including:

 

 

  1. Addiction: Gambling addiction is a serious problem that can lead to financial ruin, relationship problems, and a host of other negative consequences. People who become addicted to gambling may find it difficult to stop, even when they are losing money and experiencing negative consequences.
  2. Financial problems: Gambling can lead to financial problems, especially if a person loses more money than they can afford to lose. This can lead to debt, bankruptcy, and other financial difficulties.
  3. Relationship problems: Gambling can strain relationships with family members, friends, and romantic partners. People who gamble may lie about their activities, neglect their responsibilities, and become emotionally distant from their loved ones.
  4. Mental health problems: Gambling can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems, especially if a person is dealing with significant financial losses or addiction.
  5. Criminal activity: Some people may turn to criminal activity, such as theft or fraud, in order to fund their gambling habits.
  6. Health problems: People who gamble may neglect their health, failing to eat properly, exercise, or get enough sleep. This can lead to physical and mental health problems over time.

It’s important to remember that not everyone who gambles will experience these harms, but they are potential risks associated with gambling. If you or someone you know is struggling with a gambling addiction or experiencing negative consequences from gambling, it’s important to seek help.

We couldn’t have put it better!

When Gambling, Drugs, Alcohol and Mental Disorders Co-occur

For many, compulsive gambling occurs alongside substance addiction and negative mental health.

 

We probably can agree with the above statement from our own experience and observing the behaviour of others.

Traditionally for instance there have always been cultures of drinking and gambling. Working class males culture has historically witnessed the close tie between pub and bookies.

These days, as well as alcohol, drugs like cocaine and amphetamines are associated with gambling. Sometimes people who recover from one addiction such as gambling turn to another. This is called cross-addiction. Often addiction to substances and behavioural patterns occur together.

 

Several research studies suggest that between 50% and 75% of those with gambling addiction also have an alcohol addiction.

 

At a lower level, alcohol and other drugs lower inhibition and can encourage risky behaviours including gambling.

While we think addiction is and should be recognised as a severe mental disorder unfortunately it generally isn’t. Among many other things this means that there remains a very unsatisfactory approach by services to supporting the whole person. We so often hear of a situation where and individual is told by ‘mental health sercices’ that they cannot help unless addiction is first brought under control, while addiction services are ill-equipped to deal with things like severe depression. An individual may be sent from pillar to post.

Certianly any addiction may lead to or amplify mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. We also know that for many conditions such as anxiety, depression and trauma  may be a root cause of developing an addiction to behavioural activities such as gambling and substance use provide a quick release from suffering, this known as self-medication.

While many can recover from a single addiction quite quickly – and maybe up to a third of people stop with no support whatsoever – the same is not true for many. At worst, a person may have to deal with the fallout of addiction such as debt, ill physical health, family breakdown, involvement with the criminal justice system, unemplyment, and the shame and guilt that come from internalised stigma. If co-occurring addictions and severe mental health issues are added to the profile, the situation is a tangle of complexities which will require a multi-agency support design appropriate to each individual circumstance. Unfortunately, this ‘whole person’ approach is not often evident.

At grassroots level, the immense value of peer support and initiaves from lived experience provides for many the rock upon which recovery can proceed. The learning from this peer-led work in substance harms is of high magnitude and can be shared with those in recovery from gambling harms.There are, for instance, 12-steps groups for people recovering from both gambling and substance addictions. Further, grassroots expertise can contribute to informing and shaping necessary policies and a rethinking of the field of recovery.

We have prepared a discussion document which you can read here.

 

 

 

British Medical Association: response to DCMS consultation

In their response to the Department of Culture, Media and Sports consultation towards a Gambling Act White Paper the BMA calls for a focus on prevention of gambling harms, a cross-government working, a call for fully independent research and treatment, a recognition of the association between gambling and alcohol and smoking, attention to the burden of harms unequally carried by different population sectors, and the need for the NHS to treat gambling disorder in parity with other addictive disorders.

The full response is here.

 

  1. Executive Summary

1.1 The BMA welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into Gambling Regulation.

1.2 Gambling is a growing public health issue, with the large burden of morbidity and mortality caused by harmful gambling causing increasing alarm in the medical profession.

1.3 Doctors are concerned that the regulation of gambling is inadequate and does not prevent people becoming gamblers or effectively manage those who have developed problems.

1.4 Gambling disorder must be recognised as being as serious and complex a medical problem as other addictions and be able to be treated on the NHS.

1.5 Reports show that 59% of adults in Great Britain had participated in gambling between 2020-2021. Some population groups experience a higher prevalence of gambling: men, young people, black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, and socially deprived groups.

1.6 There is a known link between gambling and behaviours associated with harm, such as drinkingb alcohol and smoking tobacco.

1.7 The BMA suggests four main approaches to better regulate gambling:

o Restricted advertising – to help control exposure, the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) should look further into a range of options ranging from restrictions on gambling advertising through to an advertising ban.

o Independent funding of research and prevention – the current system of voluntary contributions by the gambling industry to a central charity that funds research is not appropriate – instead, there must be a long-term focus on generating independent funding of research and prevention work.

o Focus on prevention – there should be a focus on public health approaches to tackle gambling harms through a combination of prevention methods, including restricted advertising and marketing, restricting licenses and availability, and strengtheningregulatory frameworks.

o Cross government approach – the decision making regarding the regulation of gambling should be made jointly by DCMS and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Research Participants Opportunity

A student at Stirling University is seeking people who have used methods such as self-exclusion, spend caps, cooling-off periods, etc. and how effective they have been found to be.

Kaitlyn Evans  will be carrying out online interviews as part of her research  that will be an hour long and there will be no follow-ups. Anonymity will be ensured. The researcher will send details of her study and the interview procedure to you if you’d like to consider taking part.

To express interest and receive further details please contact Kaitlyn at kae00033@students.stir.ac.uk

Gambling Harms: who sets the agenda?

An article in the British Medical Journal poses the question, “Why are we devising regulations that enable consumers to use dangerous products, rather than preventing their release onto the market?” 

One answer is to do with who has power to shape the narratives and discourses around harmful gambling. 

Generally it is the case that the gambling industry, regulators and most political policy revolves around focus upon individual gamblers. If they encounter harm that is seen as an individual matter. The industry repeatedly draws attention to what it implies is a tiny number of unfortunates who suffer harm. From here, the industry embraces the ‘cure’ as being education, education, education. The industry makes a small voluntary donation to gambling education charities. small in relation to profits, and small in relation to the massive sums spent on advertising.

Nobody can  argue against the need for education. One can, though, query its predominance in discussions about reducing gambling harms. Rather than the dominant narrative’s focus on individuals, those unlucky few, we should work to emphasise the greater importance of commercial, regulatory and political factors. Campaigners do this, public health initiatives do this, many city councils do this, individual politicians do this, increasingly institutional professional bodies such as doctors do this, hundreds of third sector organisations do this. Yet even combined, all this work to shift emphasis to the commercial determinants of health and wellbeing fails sufficiently to challenge the idea that all is generally well and sincere attention is being given to the smalll number of people who are harmed by their own behaviour.

Permeating the agencies of the dominant narrative is a neoliberal ideology which favours a laissez-faire capitalism unhindred by regulations. Closely connected with this is the promotion of extreme forms of libertarianism, found especially in the conservative right wing, which adopts a moral stance based on a right to ‘personal freedom’ and ‘personal responsibility’. All adults, those over the age of 18, it is argued, are the ultimate agents of personal choice. Any interference with this individual freedom – for instance by the ‘Nanny State’ – is seen as a gross curtailment of personal freedom. From this it follows that if we gamble ‘sensibly’ all will be well; if we gamble ‘foolishly’ – well who is to blame but ourselves?

It is not possible to argue against such core beliefs but it is worth emphasising that from them will emerge preferred narratives, evidence seeking agenda and interpretation of evidence.

Opposing such core beliefs and generally cohering around views which see individuals not as separate autonomous atoms but rather as – all of us – deeply implicated in the social, cultural, economic and commercial environments which run through us and largely make us, will continue to challenge the dominant narratives and amass evidence from a wide spectrum of sources, from the voices of lived experience to the refined specialisms of medicine and the sciences.

There is, however, the insidious danger here of too coarse an understanding of environmental factors leading to dehumanisation and annihilation of personal agency. If individuals become empty data in conceptual boxes of ‘deprivation’, ‘disadvantage’, ‘vulnerable’ and so on, we lose sight of the fact that – with very few specific exceptions – individuals in whatever circumstances do have moral agency, do have degrees of power to contribute to and love others, are able to overcome their own and others’ difficulties, and can recover from things like addiction largely based upon this agency. Support – be it from family, friends, community, professionals, charities, recovery movements – is not a ‘magic wand’. Support works with individual agency, not instead of it. It is worth observing here that all difficulties in life are largely overcome by such interaction. The idea of an individual as a totally separate atom of being, alone responsible for their own welfare and that of those around, is absurd.

In recovery movements generally – especially in the fields of addiction and mental health – it has always been the grassroots support movements that have been by far the most important factor of recovery. At the same time, it has been individuals – each with personal agency – who have been the biggest force for bringing about policy changes at higher, institutional levels. Lived experience of real individual people – not empty bits of data – will continue to lead in challenging dominant narratives and shaping new ones based upon justice, human rights and equality.

Campaigning and voices against the dominant narratives and dominant agenda-setting want to shift from virtually total attention on individual (as problem, pathological, abnormal) towards urgent attention to commercial strategies such as saturation advertising, sports sponsorship, micro-marketing aimed not only at identified heavy gamblers but also at those in recovery, and – barely mentioned in much discussion – the design of gambling products deliberately designed to be addicitve.

While the gambling industry is free to fund education programmes, monolithic, conveyor belt support charities, the status quo will be maintained. That is why the call for a 1% levy on industry profits is so vital. For not only will it provide more money it will also provide for continuity of funding, fund genuinely independent research and treatment, and contribute significantly to a clearer overview no longer saturated by ideology which more validly represents the gambling landscape, and dismantles a narrative which serves vested interests and enables their manufacture of harms.

Lower Level Harms and Effect on Wellbeing

The prevalence of exttreme gambling harms – identified as a psychiatric disorder, often referred to as addiction – is given by the Gambling Commission as 0.3% of the population. This is often taken – by the gambling industry, for instance – as an ‘official figure’, set in stone. However, a YouGov poll in 2020 set the figure at 2.7%. Meanwhile research continues to find improved ways of data gathering.

Whatever the figure, what has to be added to that is the on average number of ‘affected others’, those harmed by someone else’s severe gambling issues. The average number of people so affected is six making the number of people suffering severe gambling harms using the two figures above is between 1.8% and 16.2% of the population.

However, focusing only on extreme harms disguises the fact that health harms often occur along a spectrum. Alcohol consumption, for instance, may not receive a diagnosis of alcohol dependence syndome but can be seriously damaging to health and negarively affect people around the drinker. Also, with many risky health  behaviours the midly dangerous often leads to moderately and extremly dangerous over time.

In a British Medical Journal of May 2019 the authors argue, in relation to gambling harms:

Harms from gambling affect health and wellbeing and, even at low risk levels, contribute to a loss of quality of life similar to the long term consequences of a moderate stroke, moderate alcohol use disorder, and urinary incontinence. These low level harms arguably contribute more to aggregate social costs than those from people gambling at problematic levels because of the greater population numbers experiencing them.

The impact of gambling behaviours below levels identified as extreme or severe, in other words, can and does bring significant reductions in wellbeing to self and others. The nature of this impact will vary across the thousands or millions of individual stories about ‘lower level’ gambling harms.

 

 

 

2023: Looking Back and Forward

We’ve taken the opportunity at the turn of the year to look back to how we started in 2017 with The Machine Zone, and a quick look forward.

We now run five websites which may be confusing. It certainly confuses us! So maybe this page will make things a little clearer. There will be a sixth website soon too! We’ll be hosting our film One Last Spin on its own super-duper website when it is released into the public domain.

Thank you so much to everyone for all the support, encouragement and inspiration that have kept us going. Some days it’s easy to think we’re getting nowhere but there’s always someone in one network or another to bring good news. Whatever the new Gambling Act brings we will all be continuing to do our bit to reduce gambling harms.