THE Government announced its crackdown on the gambling industry in May by slashing the stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 every 20 seconds to just £2.
That was their intention but there is a lot of confusion around when this is going to happen. It is widely anticipated that millions of pounds will be spent on these machines in the time the Government takes to implement its promises.
The setting up of its legislative review also does little to tackle the harmful effects of online gambling which is becoming an epidemic.
To me, it does not make sense to have such incoherent legislation. We are simply taking the addiction off the high street and sending it online.
GambleAware, a charity which raises awareness of gambling addiction, said that 370,000 young people aged 11 to 16 gamble each week and that 25,000 of them are classified as problem gamblers.
With the sharp increase in online advertising and social media tactics used by gambling firms, it is no wonder that people like me are increasingly worried for the next generation.
Four years ago, my dad was caught in the grip of a gambling addiction. He went to jail after stealing over £50,000 from his employers and had kept his ordeal secret from the family. We only knew there was a problem when it was revealed that he was on his way to prison.
He racked up hundreds of thousands of debt in the background, even remortgaging our family home to keep the whole facade rolling. Stories like his are seldom heard.
Since our ordeal, we started a national campaign to raise awareness of the addiction and for it to be treated as a mental health problem like drug and alcohol addiction. Gambling activity does, after all, affect the endorphin in your brain like cocaine does, according to University of Cambridge research.
What I never expected in running this campaign was for the less educated public to shout back at us so loudly.
Of course, running a campaign you expect a certain level of feedback and reaction. We have received horrific abuse. From people wishing me and my dad dead to those calling for him to be sent back to prison.
We are raising awareness of a serious condition. The Gambling Commission’s most recent statistics suggest that over 500,000 people are problem gamblers in the UK, but of course this information is not complete in my opinion. Many hide their addiction, like my dad did, and even do not realise they have a problem until it is too late.
Tom Watson MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, calls gambling addiction ‘Britain’s hidden crisis’ and has stood up against Labour’s previous policy of virtually deregulating gambling in the 2005 Gambling Act.
The Government’s recent review includes a recommendation for Public Health England to look into the health effects of gambling and for online gambling regulation and advertising to be reviewed.
It is promising rhetoric but what we need is action. Firm, fast action which will stop lives from being ruined and kill this social blight. A compulsory levy should be further strengthened so that the adequate amount of treatment and support can be delivered to both gambling addicts and the families who their addiction affects.
There was no support available for our family, besides self-help groups. It is estimated that problem gambling costs the country over £1.2bn a year, according to a study from GambleAware and the Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank.
Craig Thorley, research fellow, from the IPPR, said that problem gambling is a hidden addiction. IPPR’s research shows the scale of the challenge for Britain’s public services for the first time.
This should be a wake-up call to the Government. We need a robust strategy to deal with this issue, just like we’ve had for other public health issues such as alcoholism.
What we do not need is brave campaigners, who are telling their stories to influence meaningful policy, lambasted and insulted because of their work to make a genuine difference to the lives of many.
Adam Bradford is a social entrepreneur from Sheffield and one of the Queen’s Young Leaders. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society.