Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 460 - 479)



  460. In this country?
  (Dr Fisher) Absolutely. I have personally conducted, under the auspices of the Lottery Commission, previously OFLOT, three studies. We are now on the third. The first study was a baseline study. We looked at 10,000 children. We looked particularly at their playing of scratchcards because there had been so much anecdotal evidence of kids getting hooked on these scratchcards. I had also put forward the hypothesis that when the National Lottery was introduced into this country, it was introduced into a totally different environment with regard to child gambling, than any other country in the world. That is, we already had a mature existing market for fruit machine playing amongst young children. I hypothesised that the National Lottery would inevitably tap into that, and we would see that children who already had problems with fruit machines, were very likely to have problems with scratchcards. They would add them to their repertoire. What was interesting, of course, was whether the National Lottery itself would result in more young problem players. In that study we found that National Lottery scratchcards had added to the proportion of problem gamblers amongst 12 to 15 year-olds by 18 per cent.

  461. That is quite high.
  (Dr Fisher) That is on scratchcards alone. That is just scratchcards. We just looked at fruit machines and scratchcards.

  462. So has that evidence gone to the Government? Do they know about this? Does the Minister know?
  (Dr Fisher) I presume they know. It has been published. The Lottery Commission have done two studies, each with samples of 10,000 children. Presumably the Government have the information. It has been published in an academic journal as well. If I could make another point on scratchcards, which I think is really key. I have made the point already that they are a much faster form of gambling and, therefore, a much more addictive form of gambling than the Lottery draw. It is not quite as bad but it is almost like comparing the old-fashioned pools, with a very long wait after putting on your wager and finding out the results, and the roulette wheel. It is not quite as extreme but it is getting that way. During 1999 under the Lottery Commission we looked at 10,000 children and their participation in the National Lottery. We took that data in July 1999 and we found that in the week prior to the survey, 11.6 per cent of 12 to 15 year olds—children for whom the National Lottery was never intended—had spent their own money on National Lottery scratchcards. Exactly the same question, using the same words, was asked in a later study which was undertaken by Gamcare, in September 1999, just a few months later. There were about 8,500 in the Gamcare study sample, and they found only 6 per cent of adults had spent their own money on scratchcards in the week prior to the Lottery. So what we have in this country is a situation where more 12 to 15 year olds are buying these scratchcards, harder forms of gambling, than adults for whom they were intended.

  Mr Fearn: That is appalling. Thank you very much.

  Mrs Organ: I am not a gambler, I have never placed a bet, I have never bought a Lottery ticket—

  Mr Maxton: Yes you have!

  Mrs Organ: Oh yes! No, I was given one—

  Mr Maxton: Sorry!

Mrs Organ

  463. I was given one in New York and I actually won on it, but it did not make me addicted to it!
  (Dr Fisher) That is dangerous, winning the first time!

  464. I want you to tell me a little about the effects of gambling in the UK. You have just talked about your study revealing it was 11 per cent of young people who were gambling, but what are the numbers of people who are compulsive gamblers, both adults and children, in the UK, or the percentage of the population, and how has it changed, say, in the last 25 years with betting shops and then the introduction of the Lottery? Can you give me a picture of how compulsive gambling is affecting our whole population and our children?
  (Dr Fisher) I wish I could. One thing I pushed very hard for before the National Lottery was introduced was a base line study of what was going on in gambling in this country, so we would have a benchmark to compare future statistics with, so we could look at the impact of the National Lottery on those figures. It did not happen. The best information we have is for children, although the data was collected after the National Lottery was introduced. The only major study which has been done of adults in this country on gambling is the one recently done by Gamcare into about 8,500 adults over 16. They used two different measures but I think they found the rate was something like 1.8 per cent, but I am not certain and would have to check that.

  465. So, in other words, we really do not know the impact of the Lottery and the instant cards on getting people becoming compulsive gamblers; we just do not know.
  (Dr Fisher) No. Can I say that there are two impacts. First of all, there is the impact, and I am sure this Committee has heard a lot about it, of representations from other sections of the industry screaming for a fair playing field saying their markets and their employment possibilities have been eroded by the National Lottery, "Therefore give us concessions please." I have published some information on this which I am very happy to share with you, if you have not already seen it. They have been very successful in achieving quite major concessions so there has been a massive deregulation of the entire gambling industry with the National Lottery acting as a catalyst. The other impact on gambling is going to come because of this tension that we have between raising as much money as we can for good causes and doing it in a way which is ethical, which is not going to damage families, and in a way that the people—most of whom have left now—involved in charities, who are very concerned about the people they raise money for, are going to find acceptable. For example, we know from studies in America that poorer people tend to play the Lottery, and if you look at the proportion of revenue which comes from poorer people and addicted gamblers, they are quite significant.

  466. Is that the case here in the UK as well, that it is poorer people who are spending more of their income or are more compulsive gamblers?
  (Dr Fisher) We do not know as far as the National Lottery is concerned because all of the figures which are published are based on expenditure per head. That is a bit like saying, "Everybody in this room is aged 40", it tells us absolutely nothing. To obtain more telling information, we would need to look at what is happening at the margins. So, for example, let us look at the top 5 per cent who are spending most on the Lottery, see if they are problem gamblers, let us see what demographic groups they come from, and then we will have some information which will tell us something important.

  467. We are obviously most concerned about children and under-age gambling, because that may lead to other things. Is there any evidence in any of the studies that children who play fruit machines or buy Instants go on to even more and more gambling; the sort of argument there is about soft and hard drugs, soft and hard porn?
  (Dr Fisher) The only information we have is from studies that look back in time and they have all been done on men, but if you look at studies of males having treatment for gambling problems, the cut-off point is under the age of 14 or 15. In fact I have done a large study on casino gamblers in this country where we did 1,100 face-to-face interviews in 40 casinos. I found that severe problem gamblers and problem gamblers were significantly more likely to have had started when they were under 14 years of age, than the social gamblers.

  468. So it is important we regulate and stop under-age gambling.
  (Dr Fisher) It is vital.

  469. How do you feel about identity cards being used as a practical way of stopping under-age Lottery players?
  (Dr Fisher) When I first heard this idea I thought it was really good until I mentioned it to some of the kids in the local youth club and they said, "Yes, it is great, we can make those in technical drawing . . .", or whatever, I do not know what they call the class, ". . . we can borrow one and copy it." In practice it is a good idea. I think the more practical suggestion which I would put forward, and I know I am not alone in this, would be to raise the age of all gambling for money to 18. I am sure then we would get 17 and 16 year olds playing but what we would not get would be the 12 and 13 year olds, hopefully.

  470. Camelot at the moment uses Operation Child where it goes round to where its terminals are and does checks on whether its operators are behaving correctly. How do you feel about that as being an effective control and a way of alerting retailers to the problem of under-age gambling?
  (Dr Fisher) The purpose of the study we are doing at the moment, like the 1999 study, is precisely to monitor the effectiveness of Camelot's measures. I would say that I am impressed by their commitment but there is a way in which the buck is being passed, from Parliament, to the operator, to the retailer, and the buck stops with the retailer. We have not actually had a public hanging of a retailer yet but the blame seems to be laid at their feet. I would see it at a different societal level. One thing we know beyond doubt from the 1997 study is that the children who are problem gamblers of scratchcards are very much more likely to have parents who play, who do not mind if they play, and are also more likely to be sitting down with their mums and dads watching the National Lottery and getting the family feed-back that the National Lottery is not gambling, it is—

  471. It is entertainment.
  (Dr Fisher) —it is family entertainment. If there is one thing that upsets me more than anything it is the euphemism and the lack of plain speaking when the National Lottery is addressed. The National Lottery draw is a fairly benign form of gambling; the scratchcards are not. Forms of gambling which are planned are akin to the fastest casino games and yet the British public never expected this, they expected just a weekly draw, and they are getting all these mixed metaphors that it is good family fun, watch with your children, in fact the programmes are very much geared to young people. I think they must be confused.

  472. We know that there are cases where parents purchase tickets on behalf of their under-16 year olds. You have just given the picture of the Lottery being, shall we say, family entertainment, family fun, albeit it is a form of gambling. Lots of research shows that possibly the most benign way of introducing alcohol to young people is within the family in a controlled way, in a responsible way, as part of one's social life. Do you not take the view that actually parents purchasing for their under-16s and sitting as a family and saying, "Didn't win this week, never mind. Look, there's Anthea Turner, she's done her hair again", is all part of the introduction of light gambling which people are involved in in society?
  (Dr Fisher) Yes, I do agree with you there. It really depends what age groups we are looking at because children are particularly vulnerable. Yes, I agree, there is a responsible parental role but unfortunately not all parents are responsible or necessarily give that message, or, to be fair, necessarily understand the way that technology is affecting gambling to make it very much more addictive. I worked for some months on giving out change in the change box in an amusement arcade doing research, and I saw lovely families picking up two or three year-old children so they could put their money in the slot machine and see the wheels go round. These were loving parents on a family holiday but what they did not understand, and I knew because I had looked into it, was that the machines are extremely addictive and that the younger you are there is a direct correlation with vulnerability.

  473. Do you have any concerns about the technological developments we are going to have, such as being able to buy over the Internet or on inter-active television? Will it spiral out of our control, or is it possible to regulate it and keep it as the National Lottery has been?
  (Dr Fisher) No, it would be impossible to regulate it. The only sort of games you will be able to play on your television screen or on a mobile phone by their nature have to be the very hard gambling games. The criteria for those are that they have a very short and very arousing span of play and that you have an immediate opportunity to play again, so when you are chasing your losses, when the adrenalin is going, you can go for it. There are no other games you can effectively play. Possibly you could play the draw on the Internet—you could book a ticket for the draw—but the games they have planned will be of that nature; casino games. Anything played on the Internet is virtually impossible, it seems to me, to even think of regulating.

  474. But why is it a bad thing? It is like bungee-jumping, I would not want to do it but if you can afford it and it gives you a great thrill and a great buzz, why not do it? The same with gambling, what is so wrong with it if people choose to spend their money in that way?
  (Dr Fisher) I have already mentioned that the Lottery draw seems to me to have been successful and the money raised has done a lot of good things. What I am saying is that children need protecting and the adults need further information about the games. They have it about cigarettes, they have it about alcohol, they can make their free choices, but they have the information. I do not believe there is that information on gambling and I believe that information on the National Lottery has been almost, I would say, deliberately concealed from its very conception when it was put forward. I think probably a lot of MPs did not understand (a) it was going to be a form of gambling and (b) it was going to progress to a harder and harder form.

  Mrs Organ: But why is gambling wrong? Even harder forms of gambling?

  Chairman: I think we are going a bit wide.

Mrs Organ

  475. All right then.
  (Dr Fisher) You would have to talk to a problem gambler but the thing about gambling problems is that they cause family break-downs, they cause loss of jobs, they cause loss of productivity, a very high suicide rate. I could go into it but it is well documented.

  Mr Maxton: What percentage of the population are addicted gamblers as opposed to alcoholics or addictive smokers? It is tiny, is it not?

  Chairman: Or users of soft drugs.

Mr Maxton

  476. Yes, users of soft drugs or hard drugs, for that matter. It is a much smaller proportion, is it not?
  (Dr Fisher) With all due respect, I am not so sure I see the relevance of that. The most important thing it seems to me is that where these things are legal in society—and for a start I do not believe those things are state-sponsored—

  477. The state takes a very substantial part of the money.
  (Dr Fisher) That is true but they were not introduced by the state and they are not called "National Whisky" or "Buy the National brand of cigarettes".

  Mr Maxton: They did in Carlisle, briefly.

  Chairman: The brewers did for a long time.

Mr Maxton

  478. For a long time.
  (Dr Fisher) Once something is state-sponsored, it gives out the message that it is safe. I think that is okay if it is okay, but if we are going to move along a route to harder and harder forms of gambling, then people deserve to know. The charities who are receiving the money deserve to know. You are not going to know unless research is done and put in place to monitor the impact. Having said that, there is enough being done elsewhere.

Mrs Organ

  479. Would you like to see a warning label on the bottom of an instant or the bottom of a Lottery ticket, "This could damage your financial health"?
  (Dr Fisher) I think that is a really good idea.

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