As i often do, i woke up about 5am, poured myself a cup of tea and took my virtual morning stroll through twitter and stumbled across the BBC Radio 4 show Moral Maze, and their in depth discussion on Gambling. After seeing plethora of great guests including Matt Zarb-Cousin, Brigid Simmonds and Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, all of whom i have a huge interest in listening too.
After just a few minutes, i was actually bought to tears, a 6 foot 7 16 stone bald 32 year old, literally brought to tears over a discussion on gambling, shame on me. It became abundantly clear from the outset that this was going to be a difficult listen for a former or recovering gambling addict, whichever way you wish to perceive me.
Now, it is important to say everybody is entitled too their opinion, and i champion the right for everybody to defend that opinion by any means necessary, what stood out and upset me most was the lack of understanding and education from most parties on the issue. Christopher Snowdon, in particular, came across as unbelievably misinformed.
Now, I advocate that there are definitely some morale issues here, and a 'problem gambler' (how i wish we would stop using that phrase) must take some responsibility for their own actions. For me, committing fraud, stealing, lying amongst many other things are actions i take responsibility for, they are actions that i feel a state of eternal sympathy and guilt to those around me, and for those close to me that i affected in such a horrible way. Trust me, nobody beats themselves up more, than a gambling addict. That being said, what wasn't addressed in detail was the harm caused and the sometimes seedy ways that gambling companies use to keep those addicted playing. Personally i was let down by a number of companies, one in particular allowed me to play poker in a casino for four days without leaving, no sleep, just constant playing 24/7, how can you tell me that this is OK? How can anybody defend the actions of a business that would allow somebody to do that? Sure, you can say well that was your choice, but was it really? Is it an alcoholics choice if they were to sit at a bar and drink four pints an hour for four days? Or would you consider the addiction plays a big role in that decision making. I can say with absolute certainty, nobody has ever walked into a casino and thought, you know what? wouldn't mind playing poker for four days without sleep. I HATED it, every time, and i did this on five or six occasions.
We have licensing laws that determine how long we can drink alcohol in a pub? we close clubs, gyms, restaurants, schools, we restrict the time we can drive professionally, we restrict the amount of painkillers we can purchase? To protect those that use these services, and to communities. Why is gambling different? Online casinos use a claw back method of payments, They will take numerous withdrawals over a couple of days and then pay the money back into your account after 5 days so the money is again usable for 24 hours before they take it again, how is this sort of behaviour OK?
There are very few people that have suffered through gambling addiction that believe gambling is inherently bad. It is very well understood by those that have been through it that their own issues are not faced by all.
Personally i wish for a thriving gambling industry, one that employees amazing people, but one that does so safely. An industry that puts its customers before its blood money that is often borrowed or gained through criminal activity. Through training, casinos and betting shops could learn to recognise problem gambling. I know through experience they already can, but choose to brush it under the carpet. When we look at alcohol, there are very specific laws that are enforced with both financial and custodial penalties for breaches, breaches that can be bought onto the individual as well as a license holder. We now operate a think 25 rule, it is illegal to sell alcohol to somebody that is visibly drunk, When you see a person on roulette table spending their last £100 from their salary they only received hours before casinos will do nothing to stop that behaviour.
The only casino i have good experience of is Genting on Portland street in Manchester, after withdrawing £3000 in one night a manager approached me and i had to fill out forms about my income, provide bank statements and when they found out my salary was too low, they refused to allow me to play with those sorts of funds and gave me a limit. Hats off to whomever runs Genting, the staff at that casino deserve a pat on the back.
For fear of sounding super whiny and bitter, i will stop my tirade of my own experiences, because they are not important in the grander scheme of things, Why was the discussion not focused on the real issues of advertising. There was mention of normalisation, but what about the risk to children, the gateway and brand loyalty?
Personally, and i am at risk of a bit of a beating here, i am not overly keen to see a blanket ban on advertising. All industry should have the ability to promote their product. If companies created a safe platform in which gambling was kept affordable for all it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference. My bigger concern is the affect it has on children and the normalisation that gambling is something that is currently safe. There is only one winner when it comes to gambling, even if you are good enough to beat the bookies your account will be restricted, as mentioned by Matt. That is not to say i think advertising doesn't have an effect, it does. The point i would make is that if companies created a safe gambling platform that harm was reduced to an absolute minimum via enforced spending limits based on affordability like happens with the FCA regulations then we wouldn't have a large scale problem to protect and RET could focus on other avenues of harm, such as the unregulated market and baseline addiction of gambling that hasn't been so drastically devastating on peoples finances. I'm aware gambling addiction will exist regardless of reduction in financial harm, But smoking and alcohol addiction will not go away without banning the product either.
Whilst i entirely understand the argument that nobody should tell somebody how much they can gamble, My counter would be why does anybody need to spend copious amounts to enjoy gambling if its sole purpose is for fun and to enhance our enjoyment of sport? If somebody that earns 30k p/A needs to spend £5000 on a horse race that is not responsible gambling. Lets say you earn £80,000, you still cannot convince me a £5000 bet once a month is affordable.
But my absolute biggest gripe, and the thing that upset me the most was the lack of understanding shown by a number of people on the panel, most notably an Anglican minister. For a person that's job it is, to bring about love, understanding and forgiveness to tell me that i am an immoral person is completely intolerable. I think of myself as a person full of respect, love and understanding. One that would do anything for those i care about.
It is true to say, whilst suffering through my own addiction i became a deceitful lair, and a disgusting criminal, But if you cannot recognise the fact that good people can be temporarily disfigured mentally through a horrendous addiction then that just proves the need for a huge investment in education in all sectors of society, I do not wish gambling addiction on any person, but i would love for anybody that does not understand the harm to speak with my parents, or my partner. Speak with the parents of the hundreds of people that have committed suicide.
I can only urge, and plead with people to listen too the stories and hear the amazing work of Gambling with lives. It could be your son, daughter, husband or wife. It could be your children that marry a gambling addict and lose their family home, it could be your daughter that you love so much that cannot afford to buy nappies for their new born baby because her husband has spent all their money, It could be your daughter that was so guilty that she spent her grandmothers inheritance that she took her own life.
In an open message and i hope this is read by those at the BGC, please continue to fund education, please do more. Please do more to protect those both online, and in brick and mortar businesses. There are many good people out there doing work, some amazing charities and CIC's, How about mandatory training sessions with YGAM, Epic or Gamcare for all staff? How about extra funding for education and RET charities that go into schools and communities?
Now, i'm by no means a wordsmith, nor am i particularly intelligent, More a caveman with passion. But i have three life goals, 1) To make up for the harm i caused on my family 2) To make up for the harm i caused on my community and 3) To spend my working life helping those, and to make a difference in the industry that cost me everything.
We need to do more, not just the Betting Gaming Council, but the people that advocate change as well. It's about time we all came together to work as one and create a safe, profitable industry that we can all be proud of, no matter what side of the fence you sit on.