Adam Bradford: My father went to jail because of his gambling habit. Why Government must go further with betting reforms

The maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals is to be reduced to �2.
The maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals is to be reduced to �2.
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IN a landmark ruling, the Government has slashed the stakes on highly addictive fixed odds betting terminals from the staggering £100 every 20 seconds to £2. I am personally delighted by the decision.

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IN a landmark ruling, the Government has slashed the stakes on highly addictive fixed odds betting terminals from the staggering £100 every 20 seconds to £2. I am personally delighted by the decision.

For years myself, and others, have campaigned for gambling reforms in this country. My father David, 61, spent time in prison after concealing his gambling habit and ending up in prison.

He stole £53,000 from his employers after making his way through a destructive roller-coaster of payday loans, bank loans, credit cards and borrowing. He even remortgaged the family home in secret to keep his addiction from us.

Firms pounded his inbox with thousands of emails enticing him to bet while he was behind bars and some firms even sent premium rate text messages to him in a bid to bring him back to gamble with them. This harassment of gamblers through non-stop advertising on TV, radio and online is insidious and I think needs to stop.

However the Government ruling, which comes at the end of a bitter argument between Prime Minister Theresa May, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock and Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, is still weak in some key areas.

Sheffield has its own unique issues with gambling. Our council has hit out at its inability to control the proliferation of betting shops in the city centre. One square in the city centre has almost a dozen betting shops within a very close proximity. I fail to see how this is socially responsible or fair to vulnerable citizens.

We are taking gambling addiction off the high streets and sending it online. The Government has missed a trick in its regulation reforms.

The Gambling Commission last year reported that online gambling was a growing area and that particularly 18-24 year olds would suffer the most as this area continued to grow. Several news reports showed us how advertising techniques used by the industry could entice youngsters into betting from a young age, further acclimatising them to their products ready to make them long term customers.

According to the charity GambleAware, 50 per cent of all gambling is now conducted online. Its report from summer last year also showed that young men who are unemployed were most at risk from developing a gambling problem through the internet.

I have had countless social media adverts targeted at me online because I’ve been talking about gambling. Actually, I’ve been talking about gambling addiction. I have seen how the industry uses these ads, which are open to the public to entice young people who are not of gambling age into games with fascinating cartoons. The Government should put its foot down and have these enticements stopped.

There was a 600 per cent rise in gambling adverts between 2007 and 2014, according to research by Ofcom. I have no doubt that their pervasiveness, links to football games and heavy sponsorship of sports matches will encourage a new generation of gamblers once FOBTs are no longer the gambling machines of choice.

This is where the Government has been short-sighted. It has assessed actual harm rather than potential for harm in its report, and has taken a long time to come up with its toothless recommendation that the industry should run its own responsible gambling campaign.

I have no problem with gambling on our high streets – or being legal in our country.

I do have a problem with an industry which has grown too big too quickly without decent legislation to minimise the harm such addictive products can bring.

The industry has said that thousands of job losses will follow this announcement and many bookmakers may have to close their stores – I do not believe this.

Successive governments have failed gambling addicts, it is after all the Labour administration who deregulated this industry in the first place.

Now, Tom Watson MP, Shadow Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, strongly supports further regulation in the industry and recognises the damage these machines and online gambling can cause. Interesting how Labour is changing its tune.

A leisure industry like gambling should not be able to take a family life with it, like that of my dad or my family. It should not be able to dominate the high streets or online websites. The industry is under scrutiny now and this regulation is only the start of what I hope will be a raft of strict measures to ensure gambling no longer causes misery in this country.

Adam Bradford is a social entrepreneur from Sheffield.