By Jon Bryan | Expected reading time 4 mins
As we wait to see what a Gambling White Paper contains, debate continues about what the UK government should do with gambling legislation. Jon Bryan, writing for Slotshawk.com argues that is more important than ever for the gambling consumer to have their say.
There were almost 16,000 submissions to the consultation on gambling legislation: it seems that a lot of people have had their say. However, it doesn’t have to stop there. The government may be preparing to release their White Paper on Gambling, but you don’t have to remain quiet about what they might propose. It’s important to speak up and say what you think, especially if you are a gambling consumer. One of the voices that has been drowned out of late is that of the punter. They should be seen as a key stakeholder in the gambling review, but they rarely are.
IGNORING THE CONSUMER
“In my first months I have met a broad range of gambling stakeholders and people involved in preventing harm, including clinicians and people with personal experience.”
This is what Chris Philp, the previous minister with responsibility for gambling, said to a conference last year. There’s nothing wrong with meeting those that he did, but he never seemed to want to meet many others. Why did he not bother to meet with some of the ordinary men and women who gamble? There are millions of us who gamble and do so without it causing any harm or problems, and who enjoy it. No-one really seems to be interested in what we think.
There’s no obvious organisation which represents punters, so you might say that politicians don’t know how to find the voice of the gambling consumer, but they could at least try. Perhaps a visit to a casino, an arcade, a betting shop, or a race course, would be something for government ministers to experience. We know that much of the gambling on sports, slots and casino games takes place online, and not many people are going to let politicians into their homes to watch them spin the reels on their mobile phone. But there are other ways of reaching out and finding what would make the consumer experience better, and trying to find out our views.
There are some organisations who could be seen as a voice for the gambler: Justice for Punters (J4P) is one of them. J4P says that it is on the side of the punter, and it has been reported by The Guardian that they have assisted a considerable number of claims running into the millions of pounds back from bookmakers. But while it has an active Twitter account and a website with self-help guides for punters, it’s not really a forum through which gamblers can express their views to politicians, their advisers and other decision-makers.
THE ENJOYMENT OF ONLINE SLOTS AND GAMBLING
One forum that has provided a voice for punters to express their views is the Players’ Panel. Launched in February 2021 by Entain, they brought together gamblers who use their products, offering them a platform to speak out. The Panel is designed ‘to give consumers a voice on the issues around betting and gambling in the UK’, particularly while the gambling review is taking place. It was criticised in a Guardian article as soon as it started, with a concern about whether it was really grassroots. There are some valid questions to ask about the Panel, but what it provides is at least a start at representation. For anyone looking for ordinary members of the public to speak openly and honestly about why they gamble, what enjoyment they get from it, and what products they use, I can’t find much else that does the job.
Writing on the forum, this is what Ruth says about playing things like online slots:
“For me, playing bingo or slots after a long day is a lovely relaxing treat and I am sure that I am not alone in that. It provides not only a bit of fun but is my way of winding down at the end of the day. I, like many others, work hard for my money and therefore I consider it to be my choice as to how I spend it.”
Similarly, Elizabeth, a regular gambler who is also a member of the Players’ Panel explains what she gets out of playing slots online, as well as bingo:
“One of the things that people who don’t play online games often don’t realise is just how social an activity it really is.”
The Players’ Panel is not overflowing with a broad range of detailed views, but politicians and those thinking about reforming gambling regulation would do well to at least look at what they say. The Panel has limitations, but anyone looking to hear from a ready-made group of ordinary people who gamble is not going to be spoilt for choice. We aren’t swamped with organisations who represent the punter, which is a shame. A gap exists that we could do with being filled, but it isn’t obvious how you might do that.
THE NEED TO REPRESENT THE MILLIONS
There are millions of us who gamble, so it might seem peculiar that we don’t have a group providing decent representation for punters. At least part of the reason is the nature of the product: while some win; some will lose. You don’t always consider that gamblers are on the same side and therefore form a natural constituency, a point discussed in a section of the WrightOnTheNail podcast.
But, whatever the reason for the current state of play, and regardless of whether you play slots, poker or are a sports bettor, it’s up to us to make our voices heard, especially when this will be the first proper review of gambling laws for a generation. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) should be meeting up with all stakeholders, but the apparent exclusion of one key group – the punters – really does need to be addressed. They are not seeking out our opinions, so we need to let them know what we think.
SPEAK UP AND HAVE YOUR SAY
The need to continue to speak out and question the dominant narrative on gambling is important. Those who wish to increase restrictions on gambling should not be allowed to drown out other voices. Yes, the consultation by the government has closed, but, as I argued recently on Sky Sports Racing that “It’s not too late to get your word in: to speak out and ask questions.”
If you care about what the future might hold for gambling legislation, which has much broader implications for the rest of society, make sure that your voice is heard. Contacting your MP is just one of the things that you could do, but you can start by just talking to your friends, family and work colleagues too.
The question of what regulations the government should introduce has been asked. We can continue to offer answers to that question while politicians and pundits are still open to that debate. Not doing so means that we miss out on an opportunity to express our views and to influence regulation, as well as challenging the debate about the nature of gambling that goes alongside it. We should not miss this opportunity. We should make sure that we speak up and speak out.
Jon Bryan is a Gambling Writer and Poker Player.
Follow him on Twitter: @JonBryanPoker