By Jon Bryan | Expected reading time 4 min
‘There’s no such thing as a sure bet’, they say, but you can pretty much put all your money on the government publishing a White Paper on Gambling before the end of 2021, as they continue sifting through the 16,000 submissions to the review of the 2005 Gambling Act. For those interested, this was my contribution for TheGreatDebate.
There’s one other thing that seems to be a certainty: stray from the narrative that gambling and the gambling industry are inherently bad and need to be curbed, and some will come down on you like a ton of bricks.
If you followed the debate on gambling as Parliament broke up for the summer, you’ll probably have been looking for clues about what we might expect from the gambling review. Much of what the government said in responding to the debate was fairly general. It was vague enough to allow everyone with an interest in the outcome of the review to take something from it.
However, if some press reports are to be believed, then we are in for a series of measures and restrictions which will seriously impact on what betting we can and can’t do in our leisure time. If it was only the gambling industry that was going to be affected by these changes, many would be unsympathetic. But the anti-gambling crusade is much more than that. It is driven by a moral disapproval of individuals engaging in certain activities, rather than a serious attempt to help problem gamblers who need it.
POTENTIAL CHANGES TO ONLINE SLOTS
One of the changes that The Daily Mail tells us to expect is that ‘stakes on online slot games will be cut to £2’. This could be wishful thinking for their campaign to restrict betting, or an inside scoop from someone in the know. Limiting the maximum bet for online casino games has long been a target for some activists, after their campaign to drastically reduce the maximum bet on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals came to fruition in 2019, causing a number of job losses and changing the products that some punters use to gamble.
The pressure group Clean Up Gambling has already described this as a ‘positive development’. However, it is far from clear what the impact will be on those they hope to help. It will clearly reduce what punters can bet, but it is hard to say if it will have the impact on reducing problem gambling levels that some might hope for. The Betting and Gaming Council, for example, have warned that a change like this might simply push gamblers into betting on unregulated gambling sites.
In addition, there have already been changes to online slots earlier this year which have not yet come fully into force. If the aim is to reduce the harm caused by gambling, it’s difficult to measure the impact of such a change if a raft of changes all come at the same time.
GRABBING THE HEADLINES
Still, that won’t stop those who wish to see changes that grab the headlines and are visible to the public. Reducing online gambling will strike a chord with some when we have seen an increase in online gambling due to the pandemic. Likewise, making it illegal for football clubs to display the name of a gambling company on their shirts would be a very visible outcome to the gambling review, even though the impact of doing so in reducing any harms caused by gambling are far from clear.
One way that some anti-gambling activists have been keeping up the pressure is by coordinating social media pile-ons to MPs if they stray from the narrative that gambling is bad, abnormal, and needs more restrictions. This happened to the South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck last month. She visited a business in her constituency, meeting staff, customers and then tweeted about it with some photos. You want to get a bit of attention when you do that, but not many would have expected the avalanche that she got for a single tweet
Why the attention? Because the business in question was run by Admiral Slots, providing ‘the ultimate casino slots experience in South Shields’. The tweet attracted thousands of replies, quote tweets and comments taking the MP to task for what she had done.
Every MP expects to be accountable to their constituents and to be subjected to robust criticism for their actions and beliefs – and rightly so. But the minor twitterstorm that was generated by one visit to some slot machines was wholly disproportionate.
You don’t have to enjoy playing on slot machines: perhaps you think that the way some people socialise and spend their leisure time is not quite for you. But I’m not sure how calling them ‘crack dens’ is a helpful comparison – especially for anyone who might need to seek help with a gambling problem. Such is the nature of Twitter, particularly with emotive subjects such as gambling.
On a positive note, John Whittingdale (the Minister leading the Gambling Review) has said the government has ‘a very simple vision…We want the millions of people who choose to gamble in Britain to do so in a safe way’. Adding that ‘Gambling is a legitimate leisure activity, and there are millions of gamblers in this country’.
While we still await specific proposals to arise from the gambling review, this context set by the government is something to welcome.
Jon Bryan is a Gambling Writer and Poker Player
Follow him on Twitter: @JonBryanPoker