Scotland is not alone in having problems with gambling. Official figures – which may underestimate the numbers – state that 45,000 individuals in the country suffer severe harms. Around them, between six and ten people close to the individual will also experience serious harms. That could mean that almost half a million people are badly affected, which is almost ten per cent of the population. As with alcohol and other drugs harms, Scotland has greater harms than England.
Awareness of the issues has not been lacking. Local councils in particular have begun to adopt cross-sector policies and research. For instance, in 2006 Professor Dr Gerda Reith, University of Glasgow with The Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) produced a report for the Scottish Executive, Research on the Social Impacts of Gambling (2006 Scot Exec Gambling) Professor Reith leads Glasgow University’s Gambling Research and her work is acknowledged worldwide. We believe that campaigns and community initiatives should work with researchers, and we are delighted that Professor Reith took part in a film to appear here later in the year, One Last Spin. Professor Reith’s work has focused on talking to gamblers and understanding ‘gambling careers’, qualitative research in contrast to data about populations; her work here has been with individuals in the Glasgow area.
Research such as this, conducted with academic framing but focused upon the voices and experiences of many different gamblers, revealseach with a story that emphasises their unique journey and circumstances, challenges a tendency to turn everything into numbers, and greatly increases understanding of the complex inter-relationships between individual factors, peer groups, community, such elements as social deprivation, and wider influences from industry and governments. Such work resonates with the project at the Scottish Alliance for Health and Social Care which has a dedicated three year project to gain understanding of gambling harms through close involvement of Experts by Experience. This project is connected with the Gambling Commission’s National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. As we’ll see below, research, actions and policies in Scotland are closely tied to the Westminster government. Scotland lacks devolved powers in important areas to tackle gambling harms, but it has to be pointed out too that the Scottish government and various long-term planning documents around health and social care give very little attention to gambling. Because of its small population, community campaigning can make a real difference to influencing policy makers.
The recorded Zoom meeting below from the Scottish Alliance for Health and Social Care Reducing Gambling Harms is introduced by the project manager, Will Griffiths who describes the aims of his work and progress so far. That progress has received an annual formal evaluation from Dr Catherine-Rose Stocks-Rankin who’s an academic specialist in this. Martin you’ve met, and the fourth member of the panel is Ronnie Cowan, the MP for Inverclyde and vice-chair of the All Party Prliamnetary Group on Gambling Harms at Westminster. Both he and Will join Gerda Reith in our film to be released late this year.
We’ll be bringing you much more about the Alliance programme as it develops. It’s worth emphasising again that it centralises the voices of experts by experience. Writing about the programme, Dr Anna van der Gaag CBE, Chair of the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling and Visiting Professor of Ethics and Regulation at the University of Surrey, says:
I am encouraged by the work that is taking place in Scotland. In addition to existing initiatives, the Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm programme and the whole system approach’ being taken in Glasgow are two exciting new programmes of work. The Scotland-wide programme will put people with lived experience at the heart of action to reduce gambling harms. The Glasgow programme includes statutory services, the third sector and the voices of people with experience. These programmes will add valuable learning about the requirements for a public health approach towards effective systemic change and transformation, and can help build a movement for change in Scotland.
Glasgow Public Health
Public Health Scotland (ScotPHN) has focused on gambling harms for several years. The link given above takes you to a page which refers back to earlier reports, and states:
… the Gambling Commission has funded a three year pathway project which will support the delivery of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms in Scotland. Based in the City of Glasgow, the project will co-create, implement and evaluate a local action plan to tackle gambling harms. A participatory whole system approach will be adopted, bringing together local communities and a diverse range of stakeholders to develop a shared understanding of the problem and identify and prioritise collaborative actions on the system that will have the greatest potential impact. Sharing and spreading ideas, practice, experience and evidence will inform and support practice and policy. ScotPHN will use the learning from this project to inform national approach.
An advisory group, the Glasgow Gambling Harms Group, has been formed which includes members from Glasgow City Council, Glasgow City Integration Joint Board. Community Planning Partnership, Glasgow City Health and Social care Partnership, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH), the ScotPHN, the Health & Social Care Alliance and the University of Glasgow.
Most of us in Glasgow probably haven’t heard of most of these groups. Even their names seem intimidating. However, while it is difficult for a Glasgow citizen to be aware of background work like this, and have no access to developments or ‘results’ from a whole systems approach, we’re pleased to see the Alliance as a partner who can relay to us any news. Also, it’s very good that Dr Michelle Gillies of ScotPHN taking the time to join Alliance events. She is joint author of the 2020 Gambling Harms: Action Plan, policy and strategy links.
This is an interesting and practical report because it addresses the lack of attention to gambling in health and social care policies. Essentially, the report analyses policies from a wide range of health and social care plans and shows how gambling harms can dovetail into these existing policies.
Certainly, across the UK most stakeholders are urging a public health approach to gambling harms. At local levels this addresses licensing powers and the clustering of gambling outlets in deprived communities. More broadly it challenges the narrative of the ‘pathological gambler’ as an atomised agent of bringing about their own downfall, insisting that the full factoring in of social, cultural and economic elements be addressed. It also challenges the narratives of seeing treatment and education as the sole necessary agencies to reduce gambling harms. Instead, there is emphasis on prevention to reduce the chance of harms arising in the first place. This may sit uneasily with education and ‘treatment’ organisations who are funded by the gambling industry, itself with its carefully designed products and marketing, a key contributor to gambling harms.
It’s interesting that the intention is that ScotPHN will use the learning from this project to inform national approach. As we’ve stated, we believe that local strategies and policies can influence wider developments. In the case of Glasgow, too, it’s hoped that initiatives at local community level may influence the whole systems approach to gambling harms in the city.
The Faculty of Public Health
of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom
The FPH made a gambling policy staement in June 2018. It states:
Why is Gambling a Public Health Issue?
The aim of public health is to improve the health and well-being of the whole population. Gambling has the potential to cause harm to both individuals and to wider society, and it is an issue that cannot be tackled by interventions aimed solely at individuals. The harm caused by gambling is unequal in distribution, with those who are economically inactive and living in deprived areas suffering the most harm.
A Public Health Approach to Gambling
Commercial gambling is a global corporate industry. The availability of gambling products and platforms to diverse groups and developments in the infrastructure of game design make gambling an immediate and rapidly evolving public health issue.
The public health approach aims to improve quality of life for all, and to achieve health equity. This focus on equity is necessary as people living in areas of deprivation are more likely to experience gambling related harm. Public health action to reduce harm from gambling should not focus solely on individuals but should include a wide range of population-based measures in a co-ordinated way, including advocacy, information, regulation, for example regarding access, and promotion as well as appropriate prohibition.
They go on to recommend:
A UK Gambling Strategy, that is properly funded and works across relevant government departments and UK administrations to deliver a comprehensive set of actions that reduce the harm from gambling, including the harm to families, children and young people.
• The totality of any advertising reaching children and young people should be assessed including television advertising, online advertising, sponsorship and other forms to assess the total impact on children and young people.
• Use of legislation to tighten regulation of the gambling industry and the sponsorship, marketing, promotion and offers, especially online marketing which is currently reaching children and young people.
Across the UK, to make consideration of public health a licensing objective, to ensure greater
consideration of public health and levels of gambling-related harm when processing licensing
applications for new gambling venues.
• Effective social marketing campaigns to change public attitudes to gambling to reduce the
stigma associated with gambling-related harm and allow those needing help to come forward.
• Opportunistic screening for gambling harm in primary care for those reporting money worries,
including those at risk of gambling related harm, with delivery of brief interventions and referral
for treatment where appropriate.
• The provision of adequate levels of counselling and support services for those with gambling
problems, e.g. counselling for those with an addiction.
• Effective partnership working to ensure implementation of existing laws on gambling by those
who are underage.
• Consistent use of a comprehensive set of UK-wide indicators to monitor gambling-related
• Further research into gambling, its harms and interventions to reduce harm, including
longitudinal studies to assess long term impact.
This, from three years ago, includes most of the thining of many campaigning stakeholders today as the Westminster government prepares to consider evidence submitted towards a review of the 2005 Gambling Act’s fitness for purpose, existing methods of obtaining and interpreting data, and a paucity of evidence-based research. As Scotland’s gambling laws and regulation, and its opportunities for reforms are largely determined by Westminster, discussion of gambling in Scotland needs to be within a UK context.
The Lancet undertook research into the availabilty of professional treatment services in Scotland.
Despite research estimating that Scotland has 45 000 problem gamblers and 162 000 at-risk gamblers we have established that none of the major Scottish Health Boards has a treatment pathway for problem gamblers.
Noting that in England 14 professionally staffed clinics for gambling harms are planned, and that in Leeds, which has a researched high level of gambling harms, a service for children has been opened,
There are many regional similarities between Leeds and Glasgow in terms of industrial history, population size, diversity, and density. However, in an FOI request to the City of Glasgow Licensing Board, we found that gambling establishments far exceed those of Leeds with more than double the number of betting shops and bingo halls, almost three times the number of adult gaming centres, and three additional casinos.
The absence of problem gambling service provision in Scotland, in the face of a compelling need, contrasts with the expansion of such services in England and is an anomaly requiring urgent redress.
Bailie Annette Christie, Glasgow City Council, said in 2019: “The city has had a longstanding problem with gambling, but now we need to acknowledge that traditional approaches just aren’t working. The gambling sector has changed over recent years and therefore how we tackle the problems that arise from gambling addiction and how it impacts other areas of a person’s life, needs to change too.
“We need to treat gambling the same as alcohol and smoking addictions have been treated in the past – as public health problems. We need a new approach and to look at all the different policy areas including health, education, planning, licensing, and financial inclusion that could be used to treat and support people and prevent the harm in the first place.”
Glasgow City Council will be hosting a Summit on gambling harms in the Autumn of 2021 which will provide an opportunity for local people to join with experts by experience, experts in practice, research and policy to continue the conversation.
Glasgow has one of the highest concentrations of betting shops per person in Britain, new analysis shows.
The city – which contains 26 per cent of Scotland’s most deprived neighborhoods – has the highest numbers of betting shops per person in the country, with 240 shops serving 2,588 people each.
That’s also the highest concentration in Britain outside of London.
A Glasgow Live analysis showed that people living in Scotland’s better off areas have fewer bookies on their high street.
The Reach Data Unit used Gambling Commission data to pinpoint the location of every betting shop in Scotland.
The analysis found people living in Scotland’s top three most deprived local authorities have one betting shop for every 4,137 people, compared to one shop for every 11,972 people in Scotland’s best off authorities.
This means areas that are worse off in terms of employment, income, education, health and crime are twice as likely to have a betting shop nearby.
– Glasgow Live 17 November 2018
There are now many organisations growing from the grassroots, from the people who have suffered gambling harms. Each may focus on a specific aspect such as support for families bereaved by suicide, the criminal justice system, industry practices deemed exploitative and harmful, but each is part of an online community which is pushing for reform or radical changes. Each is also a source of support. Check out the examples on the Activists page to get a flavour. Programmes such as the Scottish Alliance’s facilitate the networking of individuals, informal groups and constituted third sector organisations.
There is ‘crossover’ between Scotland and the rest of the UK. A prominent example is The Big Step. This organisation which is closely allied to Gambling with Lives walks between football grounds wearing distinctive shirts to campaign against football’s relationship with gambling. Some of the walks are very long, taking in many grounds. A walk between Glasgow and London is planned. In October 2020 the first Scottish Big Step took place between Rangers ground and Celtic’s in Glasgow. Among the walkers was Ronnie Cowan, MP, and Martin with Chris Lee, one of The Machine Zone’s directors who founded Chatter Scotland, a support system led by experts by experience.
One fine example of community activism around gambling harms is the work done by COPE which operates from Drumchapel, one of Glasgow’s most deprived areas. COPE and its founder, Hilda Campbell, have worked closely with the Scottish Alliance’s programme to reduce gambling. Hilda’s working hard to spread the word, for instance inspiring a session about gambling for Glasgow’s suicide prevention partnership. Hilda outlines COPE’s work here.
Some of the community action is straightforward and simple and of immediate value to the community. COPE has partnered with others to explore ways to raise awareness in local GPs and other frontline staff. Leaflets and posters are ideal ways to reach people. COPE also produced a booklet about gambling harms which signposts many sources of support: you can access this on or Support page. Hilda introduced the booklet in a piece for The Queens Nursing Institute Scotland, and here she also offers practical advice about how we can all do our bit to raise awareness and start conversations.