How can anyone be against safer gambling?

This piece from Michael Dugher originally appeared on Politics Home

This week is Safer Gambling Week when we come together to promote better education and awareness, encourage even more people to use safer gambling tools like deposit limits and time-outs, and crucially when we signpost the advice, support and help that’s available to anyone who may be struggling. From betting shops to bingo clubs, casinos and online operators, and for the first-time betting operators in Ireland and across Europe too, it is an incredible show of unity to promote safe betting and gaming.

And it isn’t just the industry coming together. Safer Gambling Week is backed by the independent regulator, the Gambling Commission, and by the Government as well as politicians from both sides of the House in the Commons and in Lords.

This week also makes a real difference. Last year’s ground-breaking campaign saw the use of safer gambling tools such as deposit limits increase by 17 per cent versus the previous 4-week average. The number of social media impressions for Safer Gambling Week 2021 – hit 24.5 million, an increase of 16 per cent on the previous year. And sessions on the Safer Gambling website in 2021 were 79 per cent up on the previous year.

These numbers show the campaign isn’t a PR drive. It’s a genuine and successful effort by all concerned to engage in a meaningful way with the many millions who enjoy a flutter. Every month some 22.5 million adults in the UK buy a lottery ticket, have a bet on sports like racing or football in the bookies, play bingo, visit a casino or play online.

Problem gambling rates in the UK are low and have fallen. The latest figures from the independent regulator in June showed problem gambling rates at 0.2 per cent of the adult population - down from at 0.4 per cent the previous year. This is thanks to campaigns like Safer Gambling Week and the work regulated operators do all year-round to identify and support those at risk of harm.

I know there will always be some people who don’t like gambling. But it is sad to see how some ‘campaigners’ - anti-gambling prohibitionists who’s default position is just to call for things to be banned - have publicly condemned Safer Gambling Week. Even if you don’t like betting, how can anyone be against safer gambling?

Betting and gaming is something millions of people in Britain enjoy. Surely, we all want to see it happen in an environment that is as safe as possible. What’s wrong with encouraging people to set limits on the amount of time or money they spend on betting? Who could possibly be against making sure people are aware of all the professional help and support services that exist for those who may be struggling, or for families worried that a loved one may be experiencing problems?

That’s why operators that are part of the Bingo Association, BACTA (who represent amusement arcades) and the BGC will be communicating with customers about safer gambling and raising awareness of safer gambling tools, as well as highlighting sources of further information, advice and support. And they will be working to ensure staff are trained in identifying and helping customers at risk so that problems are spotted early and help sought.

There will also be a range of online and in-person events, including the EGR Safer Gambling Forum which provides an opportunity for the industry to discuss steps taken so far and reflect on what more can be done. The Forum will feature updates from safer gambling charities and members of the industry sharing knowledge and best practice about their safer gambling initiatives.

Problem gambling rates are low and falling, but I have always been clear that one problem gambler is one too many. At the BGC we refuse to be complacent. Our clear objective is to continue to try and raise standards, and to drive safer betting and gaming.

One minister once said to me that, “the more people tell me that they aren’t anti-gambling, the more convinced I am that they are!” As the Government seeks to finalise its package of reforms, as part of a forthcoming white paper, I accept there are different views as to what changes people would like to see for the future. But surely only the most ardent of anti-gambling prohibitionists are actually against safer gambling? Whatever your views, Safer Gambling Week is important and should be supported by everyone.

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