What are the Government doing about Gambling Addiction?

By SiliconIndia   |   Thursday, 10 May 2018, 10:35 Hrs
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What are the Government doing about Gambling Addiction?

Currently, gambling addiction is negatively affecting the lives of more than 400,000 individuals in the UK. The problem is only getting worse, devastating families, lives and communities. The social cost alone comes to roughly£1.2billion a year.

One particular facet of gambling that seems to be causing the most damage is FOBT (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals). FOBT’s show clear evidence of being highly addictive, as can be seen by the growing number of people turning to loan sharks to fund their compulsive gambling.

There are continuing calls for the strict regulation of FOBT (or scrapping them altogether), although the government don’t seem to be particularly interested in pursuing such a course of action. The prominent argument against scrapping or tightly regulating FOBT is that doing so would limit consumer choice. However, what isn’t being taken into consideration is that ‘choice’only matters when an individual or consumer is capable of actually making that choice. When you’re addicted to gambling, you’ll likely forget that you have choices and are simply driven by the compulsion to further gamble.

In 2017, an enquiry was directed to the UK government with regards how many individuals were receiving NHS treatment for gambling addiction (or were at least receiving counselling). The response was quite disappointing, with the government not even making an attempt to gather such figures. At the time, this implied that the government were entirely clueless or turning a blind eye to the growing epidemic of problem gambling.

Gambling addiction is steadily becoming a bigger and more serious public and mental health issue. Subsequently, the government need to realise the situation for what it is and treat it as such. Presently, GambleAware (which is responsible for commissioning research into gambling addiction and educating the public about treatment)is funded by a voluntary industry levy of 0.1%.

In the general scheme of things, 0.1% isn’t enough, considering that the gambling industry in the UK makes at least £13.8billion each year - and therefore pays only £8.75million for the treatment of the gambling-related issues caused by their very own business operations.

What are the Government doing about Gambling Addiction?

Unemployed individuals are at a greater risk of becoming ‘high risk’ or ‘problem gamblers’. This information - coupled with other evidence indicating that clusters of betting shops are more predominant in poorer areas, such as Newham - suggests that gambling can play a crucial role in reinforcing social and health inequalities. Therefore, theTories can’t afford to keep ignoring this.

Additional resources are needed to provide effective and specialised treatment to help gambling addicts across the country - not just in select areas. This means more needs to be done, both by the gambling industry and the government, who should be regulating the activities of players within the gambling sector.

In 2012, the then labour party deputy leader, Harriet Harman, acknowledged that liberalisation of laws concerning gambling under New Labour was a mistake that had jeopardised lives. It was this same liberalisation of gambling laws that paved the way for the arrival of FOBTs.

It’s been suggested that people’s exposure to FOBTs be limited. In 2014, the government announced that councils would henceforth have greater control over new bookmakersbeing able to open for business on the high street. Sadly, this did nothing to reduce the cluster of gambling shops already open and trading.

More recently, the Tories suggested localism, giving residents more power to influence planning decisions concerning their neighbourhoods. However, this will do little for low employment and poorer areas such as Newham, which are heavily targeted by bookmakers and betting shops.

So far, Labour has taken some steps by reviewing its stance in relation to the gambling industry. The review goes beyond easing the financial burden placed on the NHS to care for gambling addicts. It also looks into how gambling behaviour is being normalised in society and how advertising and sponsorship for gambling is fuelling the masses. There is also a move to better protect children, and update laws to ensure they better regulate new forms of online gambling, all with the aim of curtailing the spread of gambling addiction.

The scourge of gambling addiction has been left unchecked for so long that there’s a worry that current government efforts are ‘too little, too late’. However, Labour states that it is committed to introducing new changes, starting by bringing forward a new gambling act, which will expand funding for gambling addiction treatment and also raise measures to effectively tackle the UK’s gambling addiction epidemic.

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