Lord Chadlington is a businessman.
The recent tragic revelations about Sir David Tang underscores that gambling does not respect age, economic circumstance, or social status. Any incipient addictive behaviour can become uncontrollable but, unlike alcohol or drug misuse, gambling is often a secret, lonely addiction which can be pursued online with just a smartphone for company.
Secret, that is, until the gambling gets out of control. As Public Health England (PHE) recently reported, gambling often results in bankruptcy, family breakdown, higher mortality and, all too often, suicide – particularly amongst young people. PHE also reports that gambling harm costs £1.27 billion every year, adding further to the overwhelming weight of evidence that the eagerly anticipated Government review is urgent and must be far reaching in its proposed actions.
We have had enough talk about this subject. It really is time for action. Besides the recent PHE report, we have reports from the National Audit Office; the invaluable reviews of the APPG on Gambling Related Harm which have led to important steps in legislation, particularly over minimum stakes in FOBT’s; several select committee reports – not least the excellent report from the House of Lords Select Committee; and powerful media campaigns led by the Daily Mail.
There is also increasing evidence from elsewhere in the world – particularly Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, and in the relaxation of regulation in some states in the USA.
Simple desk research points to at least five key action points which will determine whether the Government review is a real step in addressing a national health problem which has been allowed to fester far too long.
First, the gambling companies must be responsible for funding the necessary change. There should be no demands on the public purse. Personally, I am quite content with a voluntary agreed levy – somewhere between one per cent and three per cent of gross gambling yield (GGY) – but failure of all the licensed gambling companies voluntarily to contribute must lead to legislation.
Second, good law must be based on solid research conducted independently of the gambling industry which must have no hand in its priorities, its subject matter, or its execution. We need independent longitudinal research and prevalence surveys as soon as possible.
But we also need specific work on such subjects as the link between gaming and gambling, the effects of gaming on children and whether this could lead to addictive gambling in later life. This work should be commissioned and reviewed by an independent body. As a Trustee of Action against Gambling Harms, I can confirm that many research organisations will not work in this industry unless the funding is “clean” and distanced from the industry itself.
Third, we need an end to gambling promotion – including all advertising – on and offline. This normalisation of gambling is insidious. When tobacco advertising and promotion was severely curtailed in 1965, many in the media and sport – remember the Benson and Hedges Cricket Cup? – believed that the financial impact on their businesses would be catastrophic.
But they soon found new ways to generate revenues. The gambling industry spends billions on advertising and promotion, so their research must show that these vast budgets encourage punters to spend more and more money? If not, why do they spend the money? And if the gambling companies are really interested in the wellbeing of the nation, why don’t they share their research on a strictly confidential basis with the Government?
Fourth, we need education in schools alongside the sensible programmes which help children and young people recognise the dangers of tobacco, smoking, drugs, and alcohol misuse. Gambling is certainly as big an issue amongst the young as any one of these other addictive activities.
Fifth, there will always be those who, despite best efforts, find they cannot beat the gambling habit. Only around three per cent of people with a gambling disorder seek treatment. Now that gambling is in the NHS long-term plan, we will, within a couple of years, have 15 clinics countrywide. Eighteen per cent of those in the UK with alcohol dependency issues are in treatment. We should set ourselves at least the same target for gambling dependency. However, always remember, there are 62,000 children with gambling problems and there is only one Young Peoples Gambling NHS Clinic.
The Government should welcome all these initiatives because they contribute to the levelling up agenda. The PHE report confirms that the biggest gambling problems are outside London and the South East with the highest prevalence in the North East and North West.
I support Peers for Gambling Reform, which is the largest interest group in the House of Lords, formed to see through the recommendations of the Gambling Industry Select Committee, although comments in this article are my own responsibility. I, like Peers for Gambling Reform, am not in favour of banning gambling, but I am in favour of making it safer and protecting the young and vulnerable.
And this is a unique moment – perhaps once in a lifetime – when the Government can act decisively working with the grain of political and public opinion.