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  • Alex Mills

Gambling White Paper: Comment from Sporting Chance

The government’s long awaited gambling white paper was released last week and as an organisation delivering treatment and education to professional and elite sports participants it is a topic of great interest to Sporting Chance. Having taken some time to consider the paper we share some thoughts and observations.

Research suggests that sports professionals are more likely to develop a gambling problem than others in society, and the number of individuals that seek support through our charity would support this claim. The relationship between gambling and sport is interdependent and, as sighted before in our GATE paper, in our opinion, in an unhealthy way.

Through Sporting Chance, professional sportspeople who have concerns about their relationship with gambling are able to access immediate assessment and treatment. Our challenge is to encourage individuals to ask for advice and support sooner than many currently do. Prevention is always better and cheaper than cure. Considered education with clear learning objectives is part of this process. Gambling addiction is thought to cause the highest incidents of suicide amongst the category of addictive diagnosis, and problem gambling destroys lives. We support any attempt to address this.

On the day of the release of the white paper the share price of major gambling houses in the UK rose. The obvious conclusion to this is that the market did not believe that the recommendations of the white paper would affect trade. While markets can be wrong, it would appear that the initial reaction suggests that gambling will continue at similar, or maybe even higher levels despite the paper’s recommendations. The introduction of compulsory checks, being lower stakes for younger gamblers, affordability checks and the levy funding treatment, will look to address the harm being done to those who are vulnerable. Perhaps reducing the overall amount gambled across the country was not the aim.

Gambling houses were fined over £50m in 2022, an increase of over twenty five percent from 2021. The first quarter of 2023 has already seen £25m worth of fines issued to gambling houses suggesting that gambling houses are failing to change simply through financial penalties. Perhaps such fines are expected and simply seen as collateral damage. As such, there is a suspicion that the levy will be viewed in a similar way and accounted for within business models. The finer detail as to if this will be attached to turnover or net profits is still unclear. But why do we have difficulty with the gambling industry and treat it differently to the alcohol or tobacco industry? These industries, whilst both selling potentially harmful products, appear to have clearer socially accepted rules and norms. It appears a strange concept that those who cause harm, then pay a levy to relieve themselves of the responsibility of the harm they may have caused. The very concept of a levy suggests the more harm you cause the more you will pay. This is a simplistic view.

The levy on gambling industries will be used to improve education and treatment and better funding for these things is undoubtedly good. We will not debate treatment modalities and effectiveness here and simply accept that more would be better. The points above are attempting to question the model and suggest that gambling houses will continue about their business of trying to get as many people to gamble as much as possible in the UK. That’s their job.

The rapid development over the last decade of technology and its ability to offer different platforms for people to bet is staggering. Exposure has increased exponentially. The potential to gamble or sell gambling has found its way into the pocket of every adult human being in the country. Most children over the age of ten have access to smart phones and tablets. It is a separate question as to the damage that societies addiction to technology, gaming and social media may be causing. Exposure is one of many elements that contribute to an individual getting into difficulties.

Water-tight rules will not resolve the issues that some have. Alcoholism was still an issue in the prohibition years in America. We would suggest that problem, along with addictive gambling, is the symptom of an underlying condition. Such conditions are usually born of a combination of factors including genetics, life experience, beliefs, environment and exposure. Rules and regulations tend to always focus on exposure element from this list as it is the point that can be influenced and controlled. We understand this.

Sporting Chance is not anti-gambling and we accept that for many it adds something to their lives and is enjoyable. We would even suggest that it is human nature and has probably existed since two flies walked up a cave wall. We are very much for supporting those who need help. The question as to when to ask for help is always a challenge. Our experience suggests it currently comes further down the spiral of decline than it probably needs to. We will be interested to see if this extra funding will support earlier intervention in wider society. We hope that some of the suggested changes will achieve this.


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