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The Great Gambling Debate

For those of you who are outside of the UK, let me offer a quick explanation as to why I'm writing this blog post - aside from the fact that I like to rant about things and this is my release. At the moment there's a lot of debate going on over here about the 2005 Gambling Act, something which is being reviewed over the coming months by the goverment. What that basically means is that the media is piggybacking on the review, as are numerous MP's who oppose gambling, to make the most of what is a hot news topic right now. I wanted to write a blog entry here about the other, lesser spoken of, side of the coin. Am I biased? Probably, I run my own business in the industry now and have worked in the industry for near on 20 years, but I feel I can offer a more balanced view than those who want to eradicate gambling completely.

So why the review? Well I'll start by siding with them on this because those who oppose gambling are right in what they are saying. Most gambling companies spent the first decade since 2005 milking every penny from every individual regardless of their affordability or how much of a hole they dug themselves into. There wasn't a care in the world back then. Throw money at it, get money in and care very little about who you harm. As far as gambling companies were concerned back then, it didn't matter if you lost your house or your car, it was take, take, take. Then came the marketing era. While the vice was slowly starting to close on one side with gambling regulators demanding a sense of social responsibility from bookmakers, on the other side, marketing spend was ramping up. You couldn't watch a football match without seeing ads plastered everywhere, and even at half time it was "BET NOW", "FREE BETS" and "SPECIAL OFFERS" and that quite simply has to change. The era we're now in is where these betting companies are obliged by law to protect customers and handed heavy fines if they fail to do so, but really, plastering "When the fun stops, stop" on your website and getting Jeff Stelling to tell you about deposit limits won't fix the problem. So what we now have is companies using the social responsibility tools that they've been forced to implement as a way of selling their product...."bet with us because we'll protect you".

Now because of all that, a review is completely and utterly the right call here. We can't carry on with our kids being brought up with a footballing industry that is so dependant on the finances of those who lose money betting on the sport to make it sustainable. Eventually that deck of cards has to collapse. There's an argument on the anti-gambling side though that a sponsorship name on a shirt would make kids think about gambling, which is nonsense. For years my side Port Vale had Tunstall Assurance on their shirt and I can assure you, I never thought about taking out a life insurance policy for one moment at 11 years old. Liverpool's iconic Carlsberg shirt never once made me think about drinking a can of that piss water - so for me, that is a pointless argument. I agree that glorifying gambling during ad breaks when kids are watching should be stopped, sure. Making it look like a cool game they can play really isn't a smart move for our future generation. But the question really is how far do you take this? How far does the law need to move in order for it to suit both sides?

The answer of course is that it will never move enough for some people until it's banned completely. On ITV there's another documentary about an ex-footballer who will say gambling ruined his life. At every hearing there will be someone out there who has in some way been harmed by the gambling industry and wants the tightest regulation possible. I get it, you've had a rough time, but me and millions of others haven't. Over the last 8 years of being in this trade and writing tips on a daily basis I've seen thousands of things that look like dead certs, and never ONCE have I bet more than I can afford. There's loads of other examples like that. There's my dad who has a fiver a week on an acca, there's all of my mates who have a little flutter now and again, there's the guy who sticks a quid on something for interest, there's my wife who plays the lottery every week - these are 95% of the gambling population. I get that some people who have no self control whatsoever are allowed to stake more than they can afford and there should be some kind of regulation around that, but regulation only solves part of the problem, and the main way of fixing things is education not legislation. I don't know about you but I would get a panic attack if I was smashing £10k on a horse to win and I'd probably die long before my wife found out I'd done it. So why should the many have to pay the price because of the few?

Gambling of course isn't the only addiction that exists in this world. I once saw a woman on TV who was addicted to eating sponges, but we're not going to ban them are we? Drinking, smoking, over-eating, under-eating, over-excercise, under-excercise, juggling razor blades - all of these things are dangerous, and yet done in moderation, all of them are fine - apart from smoking I think, and maybe the juggling razor blades. Do people get addicted to these things, yes they do, of course, but the vast majority of the population enjoy these things in moderation without any issue whatsoever. So we can continue blanket banning and taxing these things that are bad for you because the government has to babysit us through every step of life, or we can grow up a little bit and take responsibility for our own actions, something which apparently, we're not capable of doing any more.

There's the other side of the coin as well in that the gambling industry provides just as many positives as it does negatives to many people. 46,000 people are employed in the UK betting industry, pushing over 100,000 when you include the likes of slots, bingo, casino and lotteries. It's a hell of a lot of jobs to put at risk, because, as was the case with FOBT restrictions in high street bookies, when you remove the revenue generated, jobs are lost. Not only that, but there's a social aspect to this. How many people stick an acca on with their mates at the weekend and how many communities have been built on the casual and responsible enjoyment of having a bet together? 47% of Brits have gambled in some way over the last four weeks, that's near on 30 million per month. 280,000 of those have a gambling problem which equates to 0.93%. Only 3.1% of those 280,000 are those who have bet more than they could afford to lose so do we really think that implying a staking limit which is being proposed is going to help anyone here, especially as with the number of bookmakers around these days, those limits could easily be bypassed.

At the end of the day, there needs to be change and I for one am completely behind that. It won't solve the global problem by making changes here in the UK, and it won't stop gambling companies. Many of these are seeing the fresh US market and African market as potential money makers now. The US is absolutely littered with legislation but has a growing demand for Sportsbooks in certain states and it has a huge population to get stuck into, the African nations have little, if any, legislation and are an easy way to make a quick buck for these boys. But as much as I agree there needs to be change, I also believe there needs to be context. It's horrible that gambling has ruined peoples lives, it's horrible that alchohol has ruined peoples lives, it's horrible that eating sponges has ruined peoples lives - but at the end of the day, we have to bear some of that responsibility too. We can't carry on being this society where everyone has to tell us when we're doing something wrong and ban it. If you're in a position where you're already sweating after you've placed a bet, then you're out of your league and clearly you're betting too much. I always say, the line is where you NEED a bet to win, instead of WANT a bet to win.

The problem really is that there is no way to control the compulsive behaviour of the few without affecting the non-compulsive behaviour of the many. And I personally believe that there are two sides to this story, one of which isn't being told at all.

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