Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)




  Chairman: I would like to welcome you all to this first session of our inquiry into gambling. This is something of an innovation for this Select Committee because responsibility for the subject was only transferred to us after the election. We should, perhaps, have a moment's silent tribute to Llin Golding who spent the whole of the last Parliament fighting for this responsibility to come to this department. She has now gone to higher things and is not here to see it. I will ask Debra Shipley to open the questioning



Ms Shipley

  1. Thank you very much. I am very pleased to open this one because I hope that you panel members will set out the problems and, really, outline for us where the real fears are and how well-grounded those fears are. I have great respect for the Churches Together organisation, despite the fact that during every General Election they grill me without mercy for about four hours. Never mind, I still respect them. You raise some interesting things across the panel. For example, surveys suggest that the public would like to see fewer machines in premises. I would like to know exactly how well-founded are those surveys. I would like to know, from Professor Orford, things to do with how addictive they are. In particular, I want to talk to you about children because they are the next generation of gamblers. Who would like to start answering these questions?
  (Ms Lampard) Shall I begin by referring to the figures you mentioned? The figures in our evidence were taken from the Gambling Review Body report. They carried out surveys asking people their approaches towards gambling, particularly towards fruit machines, and I think my colleagues will correct me if I am wrong but the figures said that two-thirds of the people questioned did not want to see fruit machines in environments of ambient gambling, such as cafes or fish and chip shops. Forty-two per cent of people disapproved of children playing on machines with a 5 prize, and 41 per cent only approved if an adult was present. So I think that shows that there are concerns about the location of fruit machines and their accessibility to children.
  (Professor Orford) You asked about addiction in general. I think there is no doubt at all that gambling can get out of control—the words "compulsive" and "excessive" are used by the Gambling Review Body, and the Government's proposals seem to accept that. There does not seem to be any doubt about that. There is, though, I think, some misunderstanding about the nature of addiction itself, and many people will say that of course gambling cannot be addictive in the same way that drugs can be. In fact, modern theories of addiction place much more emphasis on reward, reinforcement and some of the biological theories (I will not bore you with neurotransmitters in the brain or the dopamine hypothesis), so there is no reason why an activity as potentially exciting and stimulating as gambling should not do exactly the same things in the brain as stimulant drugs do. We did a qualitative piece of work after we did the national prevalence study and talked in detail to people who have got gambling problems, and of course they talk about it as if it is an addiction and they often draw the analogy with drugs. When it comes to fruit machines and young people, we do not know precisely what it is that makes fruit machines so potentially dangerous. It is quite clear from the surveys of adolescents that there is a quite high rate of problem gambling amongst adolescents and fruit machines are a particular problem. We do not know whether it is due to the rapidity of cycle of play—that is one of the leading theories—and we do not know whether it is due to the size of prizes and stakes. One of the suggestions from the adult survey was that it might be due to the scope of people's gambling, not to any one particular type of gambling but the more types of gambling you indulge in the more probable it is that you will have a gambling problem. So we do not know precisely what it is, but there is no doubt that certain kinds of machines are dangerous and potentially addictive.

  2. Given what you say, children are at risk. Does it make any difference at all if they are accompanied by an adult?
  (Professor Orford) That is interesting. The way I read some of the evidence is that being accompanied by an adult could actually make the problem worse. There are two lines of evidence, really: one is that there is in almost all the surveys that we carried out here, in the United States and elsewhere, a positive correlation between the extent of people's own gambling and their liability to have problems and parents' problems and parents' gambling. So there is a positive correlation. The other thing is that when you talk, as we did in detail, to people who have got gambling problems—and they are now adults and looking back on their childhood—they very often say they started gambling very early, in their early-teens, and sometimes as early as 10 or 11 years old, and they emphasised the importance of parents and other adults, encouraging them to gamble at an early age. So I think probably parents and other adults do not appreciate the way they are actually encouraging children at an early age into something that puts them at risk.

  3. Would you say, then, that the Government has been wrong in its assessment—which is my view? I think it should seriously reconsider the children's position. Would you agree with that?
  (Professor Orford) Yes, very much so.

  4. Why? Where exactly do you think the Government is wrong?
  (Professor Orford) I think it is wrong in buying into this distinction that some people would like to make between gaming machines—types A, B and C, as I understand they are going to be called—and smaller machines with smaller stakes and smaller prizes, which have been called "amusements" in the past. So there is this distinction that some would like to make between real gaming machines and amusements, but there is no clear distinction, there is just a gradation: type A has big prizes, type B less so, type C slightly less so and amusements with prizes less so. Of course, the key distinction apparently is the size of the stake and the prize, but if you are talking about 5 as a prize for a ten-year old, if a ten-year old has available 10 a week and the average adult has available 400 then the prize of 5 to a ten-year old is equivalent to a prize of 200 to an adult.

  5. You would, in your professional, expert opinion, suggest that all the sort of fish-and-chip shop, working men's clubs and all these places where there are these things where children can get at them easily really should not be there because they are significantly dangerous?
  (Professor Orford) Yes, yes.

  6. If I can move to another area, the funding for treatment, prevention, research and all the associated things once someone has become a gambler, where do you think that funding should come from?
  (Bishop of Blackburn) I have no doubt that the promoters of the gambling should have a heavy responsibility to provide the resources for that because it is very clear to me, from my own researches in the United States, that unless that is in place there is a dereliction of duty, because we know that there will be victims. I am one who sees this as a potential regeneration of seaside resorts but I do think that that has got to be in place before you go forward. The one thing we learned on my visit to Las Vegas was to make sure that that was part of the arrangements in law before the law was changed. I am very strong on that, I do not think you can expect charities and churches and the like to pick up the victims, which may be wider, of course, than the local area.

  7. What sort of funding are you looking for?
  (Bishop of Blackburn) I think that is a matter for others on this table who are more expert than I to give you an indication.
  (Mr Bellringer) GamCare has benefited from voluntary support from the gambling industry from when it started and that support has been forthcoming quite across the board of the gambling sectors. However, I do have to say that it has been very small amounts indeed. If you compare the amount of money that GamCare, as the national centre dealing with the social impact of gambling, operates on with other countries—

  8. How much? Tell us.
  (Mr Bellringer) In other countries we are talking of millions of pounds.

  9. How much do you get?
  (Mr Bellringer) The last amount we had from the new trust for this financial year is 311,000. Our total budget for last year's expenditure was over 400,000. The requirement that we need for this year is a lot greater. We cannot stand still because we have natural growth, both from people phoning the helpline and coming for counselling, and we cannot turn them away. Quite frankly, what the industry are doing is a good start but they really need to be going quickly towards the target that both Sir Alan Budd and the Government have laid down.

  10. Which is?
  (Mr Bellringer) Three million.

  11. I would put it to you that 311,000 or even the 400,000 that you are working on is an absolutely pitiful sum and that the amount that gambling costs the country—the Health Service, the taxpayers and charities, of course (but mainly it is the taxpayer who is picking up a huge bill)—it really should be put at somebody else's door. Three hundred and eleven thousand is minuscule compared with the profits made from gambling.
  (Mr Bellringer) Absolutely right. When you consider that under the prevalence study it was determined that 0.8 per cent of the population have a gambling problem—which is about 350,000—you have to multiply that figure by ten because no problem gambler operates in isolation and the average number of people adversely affected is around ten, so we are talking about 3.5 million people being adversely affected. In relation to the services across the country to deal with it, either done by the voluntary organisations or indeed by the National Health Service, where, as far as I am aware, the only unit operating has shut down through lack of funds, it is, as you say, a pitiful response at a time when gambling is poised to expand. We really need to get the social impact treatment, prevention and research in place before we have this expansion.

  12. Finally, would all panellists agree that the Government should not allow the expansion before significant other structures are put in place?
  (Bishop of Blackburn) Yes.
  (Mr Collins) I would agree with that, but may I demur a little in respect of this funding issue and, to some extent, in relation to the children issue? To take the children issue first, I think it is true that the UK is the only country where children are able to gamble on anything at all, and that is a matter which the Government needs to consider seriously. On the other hand, children in this country have been gambling for a very long time at seaside resorts, yet the prevalence study shows there is actually a rather low number of problem gamblers in the UK compared with other countries where children are not allowed to gamble. So it is not clear to me that allowing children to gamble actually is creating a major social problem in the long-run. What I would say about that is that gambling needs to be understood from a regulator's point of view, from a policy-maker's point of view, mostly in the same way that alcohol is. We know that a small minority of people become addicted to alcohol and it may be to do with the way their parents encouraged them to drink or it may be to do with the availability or to do with genetic predispositions, but the fact is we know extraordinarily little about the realities of addiction generally and of addictive gambling in particular.

  13. Is that not, then, a clear argument for saying that you should not go forward and allow more until we have more knowledge?
  (Mr Collins) As far as the more money thing is concerned, I certainly agree that funding should come from the industry, and it is in the industry's interests that funding comes from the industry rather than having it dragged out of them when they are reluctant by a government-imposed levy. I do think that it is very difficult to come to a fixed amount. I run a responsible gambling programme in South Africa where we have dealt with precisely this issue, and we have agreed with both industry and with government that whatever the budget is it must be needs driven; that is you must not just say "it should be X million", you have got to say "What do we really need to do and how much will it cost to do those things?" You put all those together and then you get agreement, and the way you get agreement is by actually having the whole thing supervised by a trust of the sort that is now developing, which is composed partly of industry (but without a dominant say by industry—that is very important), partly of regulators (but probably without a dominant say by regulators either) but which has a very strong, independent component which enjoys a high degree of trust amongst the public and is well-respected by both industry and regulators. That body must actually develop a needs-driven budget and, in that way, will actually get the money forthcoming rather than just bandying about figures and saying "This is too much, that is too little".

  14. So you agree these structures should be put in place before—
  (Mr Collins) Absolutely.

  15. Chairman, I think Professor Orford disagrees with part of that.
  (Professor Orford) Yes, I do not know where this idea that Britain has a low rate of problem gambling comes from because the estimate is that we have a third of a million adults who may suffer from a gambling problem, and all the evidence suggests that the prevalence rate amongst adolescents is considerably higher than that. There has only been one other European national survey, and that was done in Sweden, and our estimate for Britain is a third higher than Sweden. It is true that the rate for Britain appears to be somewhere lower than the United States and, particularly, Australia, but they are both countries where they are very, very concerned about the rate of gambling problems.
  (Mr Collins) I was not making that point, I was simply making the point that there is not an obvious causal connection between the fact that children in this country can gamble on penny slot machines at the end of the pier and that there is a major and palpable problem with adults gambling.


  16. Obviously the protection of children in any sphere whatsoever is extremely important. On the whole, most children do not get to seaside resorts on their own; they may well wander off on their own when they get there but most children will get to a seaside resort accompanied by parents. A concern of mine, which I do not see dealt with in the memoranda you have submitted, is unaccompanied children in other areas, such as very large cities. I do not see in your memoranda something which has long been a great concern and that is the vulnerability of children who go to amusements arcades to sexual predators. There was, quite a while ago, a very famous TV programme called Johnny Go Home, and if one goes by Kings Cross Station, for example, and sees the amusement arcades there—Kings Cross being a notorious area for prostitution and sexual pick-ups—I think I am even more concerned about the vulnerability of children attending such places to sexual predators than I am to the other aspects that are rightly your concern. I would be interested to hear any comments you might have on that.
  (Mr Collins) I think there is certainly a serious issue of irresponsible parenting or irresponsible childcare which is very often associated with places where children can go for entertainment. Obviously, inner-city arcades are precisely that sort of a place. I do not think, in a sense, that is an issue for gambling policy, but it is an issue for wider social policy.

  17. It is related to gambling because those kids would not be there if they had not gone in there to gamble. It is not so much a question—though it is to some degree—of children with parents nearby or at home, but it is often a case—and certainly it would be in London and it would be in Manchester—of runaway children who turn up in the centre of big cities. As I say, I was interested to see that your memoranda did not refer to that. Clearly, it is an issue (and I am not sure in my own mind what you do about it) about regulation of the actual venues in addition to parental responsibility.
  (Mr Bellringer) I think it lends weight to what was being said earlier about reducing ambient gambling. Certainly we were disappointed not to see the loop closed on machines being available in retail outlets such as fish-and-chip shops. You talk about arcades but I think children are very vulnerable in these other venues where we know there is an element of illegal machine play going on in a back room. I think the step also that the industry has taken to swap their operations from amusement arcades to gaming centres, which are age-restricted to 18, is a positive step, but the vulnerability of under-18s is there. The figures for 2001 (which have just been published) show that 9 per cent of calls to the national helpline are by or from children under the age of 18 and that a further 27 per cent are aged 18 to 25. That emphasises emphatically the vulnerability, and the fact that a considerable number of children are still getting into trouble with gambling, let alone, as has been highlighted, falling prey to the pressures of people who have an ulterior motive for befriending them.

Michael Fabricant

  18. I come to this with a completely open mind and have been fascinated by what Professor Orford and Peter Collins have had to say. I was born in Brighton and spent sometime, obviously, on the Palace Pier in Brighton in the arcades and, later in life, I used to go every two years to Vegas because the National Association of Broadcasters Convention meets there. However, I have never felt the need to gamble. In fact, I have never been interested in gambling. I wonder if you could just explore in a bit more detail why it is that some people can be exposed—as I was as a youngster—to environments where gambling was encouraged, if you like, on a pier and various other amusement arcades in Brighton, and yet it does not always mean, of course, that you then become an inveterate gambler in later life. Peter Collins mentioned, for example, possible genetic influences. I wonder if you could both explore that a bit further.
  (Professor Orford) It is complicated, of course, as is the development of any human behaviour—causation is multi-factorial as they say. One of the leading theories in the gambling world has been about an early significant experience or a number of early significant experiences—sometimes called "The Big Win Theory". Some compulsive gamblers, looking back, often say "Of course, the turning point was when I had a particularly big win when I was such-and-such an age and that got me excited". Our evidence is that it is not quite as simple as that, but that early emotional experiences around gambling are particularly important.

  19. How do you define "early"? What sort of age are you talking about?
  (Professor Orford) It could be almost any age, but you could well be talking about the early teenage years, because a lot of people looking back say "I started to gamble in my early teenage years". A lot of people say things like "It was seeing my Grandad, seeing his eyes light up when he won 50 on a race" or "It was my first experience of winning a couple of pounds and I realised that you could get money by just putting it in and getting it all back". So it is something to do with early emotional experiences and being "turned on" at an early age. That is just part of it. There are lots of pulls and pushes and restraints and encouragements. It is a complicated business.
  (Mr Bellringer) Experience tells us, from running both counselling services and the helpline, that there are certain predisposing factors in those who have a vulnerability to picking up a gambling addiction. There are some general pre-disposing factors towards any addictive behaviour, such as the emotional experiences that Professor Orford was talking about—feeling belittled as a child, lack of confidence, being emotional, physically, sexually or spiritually abused—so there is a raft of factors. Some that come into play with regard to picking up a gambling addiction, as we have discovered, are things like a great importance about the power and value of money (there might be an abundance of it, there might be very little); the realisation at an early age that somebody likes games of chance and it gives them a strong feeling as a substitute for something else, maybe. There is a raft of factors.


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