This picture of me modelling a lovely ‘casino’suit that was donated to Hope, and an announcement today that Health service leaders are calling on the gambling companies to be more prepared to change their practices so as not to encourage problem gambling (read more here), is a useful trigger to a blog about problem gambling.
People sometimes express surprise that Hope tweets and makes comments about problem gambling, gambling policy and regulation. There are several reasons for this. The first is that problem gambling, like other addictions, is causative of homelessness and exacerbates homelessness, recovery and poverty. Gambling is essentially a brutal tax upon anyone who engages in it, and it is more vicious to those with less disposable income to put towards it. There is also a desperate lack of support for problem gamblers. (read: https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/blogs/2016/may/25/gambling-and-homelessness-what-don%E2%80%99t-we-know; https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6e65/41f524d70bfda8159eb48a77012a5807c1ed.pdf).
The second reason is personal history. Between 2004 and 2006 I was CEO of the national charity that at the time was the sole funder of all treatment, education and research about problem gambling in the UK: I funded services and research, set up educational programmes, took part in extensive international liaison, wrote and supported national strategy, and commissioned (and edited) an international review of what works with problem gambling (https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_34551_smxx.pdf).
The period since 2006 is a long time in gambling history. Back then there were far fewer researchers looking in to this issue, less concern, less interest: and the gambling industrywas largely unregulated. The NHS was not interested, frankly, and the government even less so. The role I held was completely untenable, with the expectation that the gambling industry would do the honest thing and properly resource my charity, and address its responsibilities sadly unfulfilled.
Roll on 14 years and it has all changed…except it hasn’t. There is greater awareness, yes: the NHS funds a little bit of treatment, but none, for example, in Northampton. The government today is more sympathetic to control of the industry than the government of the time, which was trying to force ‘supercasinos’ as a regeneration initiative, on deprived towns and cities. There has been greater control, including the announcement this week that use of credit cards in online betting will be curtailed and controls on FOBt roulette machines.
Bit the problem continues to grow and the gambling industry, which acted in an utterly immoral, bullying way in 2006, really has not changed. For all their weasel words about willingness to protect young people and problem gamblers, their entire motive is still to wrench as much money as possible out of the hands of poor people and communities, regardless of the misery this causes. And the Gambling Commission, bless it, is still the toothless old tabby it was set up to be rather than a powerful regulatory tiger.
So yes, thats why Hope is concerned about gambling: its a poverty and homelessness issue: its a tax on the poor. We will continue to use our voice to campaign against the harm gambling does to the individuals and communities we serve, and the need for proper treatment, education and regulation. We will try to ensure that we support problem gamblers as best we can, including through funded projects if funding become available.
Note: Hope does accept funding from the National Lottery. Research is quite clear, the Lottery is not the same as the rest of the gambling industry; Lottery play does not and cannot cause the same level of harm as other forms of gambling, and it does no damage communities and individuals in the same way. And it makes available a significant sum of money for good causes. There is no hypocrisy here.