No group of individuals demonstrated less competence in gambling operators, than shown by those in boardrooms operating fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT’s) in licensed betting offices. For years, executives of household names like William Hill and Coral denied the evident damage done to individuals by these voracious machines. They defended their stance with weak arguments of the kind ‘there’s no empirical evidence of harm.’
An ever increasing clamour on social networking and in the media didn’t alter that stance.
Those same operators approximate worth these days is precisely half what it used to be on the stock market, and continuing to decline. Denial of the flaming obvious didn’t go that well then. Although those same executives have now departed with their multi million pound payoffs. It seems we pay for failure too.
Now executives at many gambling companies make those same denials when we discuss their marketing. Often aimed directly at children. Let me qualify that remark, when we show Ray Winstone or Jeff Stelling at 6pm, when children are very likely to be watching, then those operators are definitely targeting children. Since a fair percentage of that audience will naturally be under aged. Once again all the denials in the world cannot change that bare fact of life. You are grooming children and normalising gambling.
In other news, we hear of the departure of Richard Flint from Skybet. An organisation he has led for some time, and which was recently sold to the Stars group for an embarrassing sum. There will be those, therefore, who view Mr Flint as a notable success story in gambling. If we are discussing his personal worth, then yes, of course he has done very well out of Skybet’s growth, and the sale to Stars. I’ve always viewed Flint as a 1st class hypocrite. Advocating responsible gambling measures whilst assaulting my children with his invasive advertising.
But that growth has been based on legitimising the word ‘no’ – bombarding those interested in watching sport with marketing they don’t want, and growing the company with offers which cost millions to operate, such as ten each way places in golf tournaments. In the meantime the gambling industry is finding itself more unpopular now than it has ever been, and literally throttled by a regulator reacting to adverse sector publicity. Many of those companies have significantly devalued in the market by not less, in many cases, than a third of their market value.
What’s left behind by executives such as Flint is a mess. I don’t view his departure with any sadness. Companies such as my own is left to try to salvage what we can in a sector that’s never been so unpopular with its own customers. When did so many firms stop being bookmakers? Stop laying multiple bets on Frankie Detorri having a few winners?
The irony remains, the regulator, (UKGC) spends much of its time listening to the same executives they end up fining. I wonder how they feel about the advice they were given by the likes of Skybet? I do know the regulator continues to place the cart before the horse in dealing with the myth of problem gambling. Countries favour the control of marketing in controlling levels of addictive products. Not the Gambling Commission it appears. They continue to deal with issues after they are created. Doubtless persuaded by the millions brought back into the UK by operators who’s favourite colours are grey and black..
I read daily the army of social network advocating new measures for operators to deal with entirely fictitious problem gambling levels. Utilising emotive topics such as suicide levels, and the totally fictitious ‘55,000 problem gambling children’ to bolster their views.
Nobody wants to see anyone commit suicide, but let’s talk frankly on this subject, and perhaps understand better my views on this topic. The office of National Statistics compile detailed data on the 7500 odd individuals who take their own life annually in the UK. Their accurate figures state that since 2002 an average of 1.1 suicides a year mention ‘gambling’ as the cause, or partial cause of a suicide.
Is this the compelling argument those advocating that gambling needs severe new controls? Are we really to reduce the quality of life for millions who enjoy a flutter entirely within their means, and ask regulators to make up a similar set of draconian rules which served us so poorly when they sought to control the UK Banks? Do you really want to tell some employee of Ladbroke how much you have in your Bank account? Whether you can ‘afford’ the £300 you have just deposited – and where you got that money from? Of course not. It’s in play right now, don’t expect regulators to end there.
At the end of all arguments is one simple, and central truth. No regulator or official is going to tell an individual how much they should spend on any product, or whether they choose to use a credit card. Addiction is only controlled by the individual, and it starts and ends right there. It is dangerous and impractical to make an operator in some way ‘responsible’ for how you live your life, or what you spend your money on. The addict can’t afford credit cards – full stop.
Addicts casually cheat their way back into gambling – because they are addicted. This occurs regularly, yet I read some uninformed, and frankly vindictive types maintaining we should in some way be responsible for such evasive behaviour. It’s a ridiculous stance.
Trying to set ‘arbitrary’ limits on what you deposit, or make gambling operators ask the same set of lengthy and embarrassing questions the UK Banks do right now is a serious deterioration in our quality of life.
Finally, one last point, contentious perhaps, but it is entirely necessary to challenge what is being advocated. I do not see an individual who has demonstrably been too weak to manage his own life, as the architect of policy for the millions who live life within their own means. Let us live our lives by the silent majority, as opposed to those seeking to blame everyone else for their failures. For those with issues, addiction will always remain your personal responsibility. The culture of blaming operators for things that didn’t go as well as you hoped in life is futile.