Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. The Police and Customs use profiling a lot. If you come into London Heathrow Airport there is a plain-clothes Customs guy and he is trying to identify someone who might be smuggling. Could you profile someone and say "he, or she, is more likely to be gambler than someone else?"
  (Mr Bellringer) It depends how much you know about them, to be honest. This is a very tricky issue for the industry to face if we are going to move from a positive reaction to identifying problem gamblers carrying out that activity, or to a pro-active stance. There are indicators that people who work in the industry and ourselves could pick up on, but if you are talking about profiling young people you would have to know quite a lot about their history. I do believe that the Probation Service and Social Services now do have such tools at their disposal to profile young people at an early age in terms of criminal behaviour. I would say with some more work and research that could be done in terms of a potential for or a vulnerability towards picking up a certain addiction.

  21. Finally, if I could just ask, how much do you think the genetic side of things comes into it? Perhaps I will ask Peter Collins to answer that first.
  (Mr Collins) I preface my remark by re-emphasising that the most striking thing about problem gambling, as emphasised in the Budd Report, is how little we know about it, how inadequate the research is and how much more research needs to be done. I think we would all agree on that. I do know a figure for addiction generally. I do not know how solid it is but it is that people who are addicted to either drugs or drink—if you have one or other parent who is an addict you are 60 per cent more likely to become an addict yourself. That, of course, does not mean that everyone who is an alcoholic or a drug addict has an addictive parent and, conversely, it does not mean that everyone who has got an addictive parent is going to become an addict. However, if you go around the anonymous groups, for example, you will find a disproportionately large number of people—

  22. Is that because of social influence or is it actually genetic?
  (Mr Collins) We do not know.
  (Bishop of Blackburn) It is very difficult when you talk to addicts to decide that, because of course they will say that it is part of their being, as it were, but I think sometimes we want to be too sophisticated and life is just rather dull for some people, and there is no excitement. There is a lack of worth. Maybe we are trying to be too sophisticated, but for some it is the win and it is the chase and all of that, and that can begin at a very, very early age. It will be interesting to see, in the arcades, what sort of social class groups people came from who were actually frequenting these places. Like you, I spent a week in Las Vegas and was not tempted to gamble at all. However, others were just going there for that chase. I think this self-worth thing might be quite important.

Rosemary McKenna

  23. I have come to this, also, with a very open mind about the whole issue, but I also come with 20 years' experience in teaching young children. I have observed that children gamble on all sorts of things—they gamble on playing marbles, they gamble on who is going to win the football game—and it is just a natural part of their growing up. It is harmless and it does not seem to do them any damage. I tend to agree with Mr Collins when he says that the issue is about family policy and social policy rather than problems of gambling. I would be interested to hear what you think about that. I do not honestly see many children suffering because of their experience with early gambling, but I would like to see some real hard research that we could base our information on. I would like you to try and convince me that the Government is going down the wrong road because I do not see seaside gambling when you are little—and invariably not winning little things—on the pier as the problem. I would like to have some hard evidence.
  (Mr Collins) I think one of the things that research needs to do is to understand normal gambling, or non-problematic gambling, much better. For the vast majority of people who gamble, like the vast majority of people who drink alcohol, it is just a form of entertainment. You and I might find it a rather dull form of entertainment and think it more fun to go to the opera, or whatever, but the fact is for a lot of people it provides a lot of harmless entertainment. What I would want to understand is why is it that most people can handle this without any problems and what do you do about the small minority of people who do get into very serious trouble?
  (Professor Orford) Can I make a couple of points on that? One is that I think it is hard to see the evidence of gambling problems, whether amongst children, adolescents or adults, because it has up to now been a hidden and misunderstood problem. It is why, for example, the Health Service makes no provision at all for problem gambling, even though the size of the gambling problem looks as if it may not be very different from the size of the heroin problem, which every health authority is required to make provision for. So it has been a hidden problem. That is why we have not seen evidence of it. The other point I wanted to make, I think, is related to your question and also the Chairman's question, that there has been tremendous confusion on everybody's part about what is gambling, what is not gambling, what is a gaming machine and what is an amusement? So we are talking about the end of the pier, for example, but what we are talking about here and what the Government is proposing is not end-of-the-pier stuff; it is admittedly the smaller end of the gaming machines in clubs, in pubs and in amusement arcades, in seaside entertainment centres and in inland arcades, often divided from the larger machines by a line—an invisible line—down the middle of the facility which makes it extremely difficult for children to know whether they are allowed in and makes it extremely difficult for parents to know whether their children are allowed in. I have spoken to many parents, as a parent and, also, as a clinical psychologist talking to parents concerned about their offspring's gambling, and they find it extremely confusing as to whether an arcade is somewhere where their children of a certain age are allowed or not. I fear the Government's proposals, in trying to make this distinction between some gaming machines and some things for purely amusements, are just perpetuating that confusion. I would not want to be a parent with the different types of machines at a seaside resort. It is making parenting much, much more difficult.
  (Mr Bellringer) I think the existing regulations have been one of the factors on why the prevalence of problem gambling in this country has been quite low. I totally agree that the great majority of gamblers, even young gamblers or adult gamblers, keep it under control and enjoy it as part of a leisure activity. However, we can also look to countries like Australia, who actually liberalised their laws three or four years ago, where the prevalence of problem gambling is 2.3 per cent, and we are now getting a backlash. I think we need to be very careful that we do not exacerbate the prevalence of problem-gambling at a time when gambling is expanding not only terrestrially but with the e-gaming platforms, which are particularly attractive to children. They are beginning to feature on our statistics as people using this medium to gamble both in a virtual slot machine capacity and using it as a betting capacity. Whilst it is absolutely right that the Government proposals are put in the context of a mainstream leisure activity, if we do not go forward with a cautious approach and do it in a stepped basis and take all the precautions and do this research, monitor the changes, I think we definitely will experience something like they have experienced in Australia, and then we will all suffer as a result of that, because we will have to row back from that position.
  (Ms Lampard) This does raise the whole issue of social responsibility, which is a big part of the Government's paper, and we warmly welcome that. I think we need to see social responsibility as not just being the reactive, paying for the problem after it has happened—the corporate giving side—it has got to be the pro-active, putting in place policies and procedures that are going to stop people reaching that point. That means progressing very slowly if deregulation is to take place.

  24. How slowly though? The whole thrust of the report is that it is a package.
  (Mr Bellringer) I do not think anybody wants an overnight proliferation of casinos in this country—not even the industry or anybody else. I do think we have to work out a balance so we can increase the freedoms of gambling but make sure that the monitoring mechanisms are in place at the same time. That is, monitoring quickly and efficiently, and looking at the analysis of that. If, as we hope, the safeguards are in place and there is not a proliferation of the problem, then we can speed it up, but if we do it as a "big bang" situation I do feel that without the monitoring, particularly, it will cause us unnecessary difficulties.
  (Mr Collins) I think I would concur with that. There is a very strong case for limiting the number of new machines and, particularly, new high-prize machines, from a social responsibility point of view. I think there are good reasons for it for other reasons, too, to do with social environment and so forth.

  25. Who should fund the research? I do think it is important we should have good, solid information.
  (Mr Collins) As I say, I can only repeat what works quite well in the South African case, which is that funds are gathered both from the private sector and the public sector by a largely independent body which then adjudicates bids for research expenditure. That works well. Independence of the body is crucial.

Alan Keen

  26. First of all, can I say I am in favour of the laws on the grounds of personal freedom, but I only say that before starting the question. I will not take too much time because this is not the main issue, I am sure. How many people when they are gambling understand the odds? I do not mean 5-2 against, but how many people understand that they are going to lose in the end? I do not gamble because I would rather give to charity than put money down the drain, although gambling does help to provide sports facilities and all sorts without me having to pay too much towards it. How many people understand? Should we educate people on this?
  (Bishop of Blackburn) Absolutely.

  27. I do not want to damage the industry because people enjoy it and that is fine, but can you tell me about the lack of education? People I speak to have no idea that they are putting money down the drain and that the longer they go on the more they are going to lose rather than the longer they go on the more they are going to win.
  (Mr Collins) That is absolutely right and it is a very, very important point. A lot of people who get into trouble with gambling do so not because there is something wrong with their heads or their psyches, but simply because of ignorance. I can give you two very good examples of this. People do not understand random numbers. They think that a roulette wheel or a slot machine which is generated by random numbers, if they have lost for a very long time it means they are bound to win the next time. If two jackpot signals have come up and one just missed they think that was a near miss and they are getting close to winning. So they have all these false beliefs which encourage them to gamble too much, and certainly the public generally needs to be educated about how gambling works. The other example is the Lottery, which is not a big problem in this country but it is a big problem in developing countries where people really do not understand. They reason to themselves as follows: "If I buy one lottery ticket I have got a really good chance of becoming mega-rich, whereas if I do not buy a lottery ticket I have no chance. If I buy two lottery tickets I have got twice as much chance than if I have one. So if I get hold of all the money I can raise, by begging, borrowing and even stealing, and buy 500 lottery tickets, then I will have a really, really good chance of winning". They do not understand that 14 million to 500 is still terrible odds. Those are the sorts of things where I think you can actually reduce the amount of excessive gambling by public information.
  (Bishop of Blackburn) I think this is probably more difficult to achieve than it is to say. The Casino always wins, I think, is the thing you need to have in front of you all the time. I fear that we are going to put more on to the schools, and I do not think that is the way that this kind of education needs to be conveyed. It needs to be somehow conveyed in a much more subtle way through the media, television or whatever, but it does need to be got across. At the end of the day even if you educate people there will always be that sense of hope that things are going to be different for them. When I went to the States recently they produced a professor of sociology (retired) who was a gambler, a respectable gambler. He explained it all to me—I still do not understand it but he explained it—but he believed he had a system and he is a highly educated man. In spite of what Professor Collins said he is going to go on with that. So it seems to me that we have got to get this across but I do hope we are not going to suggest that the schools add it to everything else we seem to expect the schools to teach. I do not think that is the way forward.
  (Mr Bellringer) The issue of education is absolutely vital and it is interdependent with regard to harm minimisation. We were talking earlier about parental responsibility. They need to be educated. Camelot, running the Lottery, has tried very hard to convince parents over the age of selling or giving tickets to under-age children. It is a difficult message to get across but it needs to be put across. As I say, it is very much part of this whole process of harm minimisation.
  (Professor Orford) I agree with what has been said and there is a lot of misunderstanding about probability and randomness and there is need for education, but of course gambling, to some extent depends on people misunderstanding. The attractiveness of the National Lottery depends on people over-valuing a very, very unlikely event of a jackpot because it is so well-advertised and because it is such a big jackpot. People over-estimate the probability, and the National Lottery depends on that. Similarly, technological advance in gaming machines depends upon building into the machines increasingly ways of building up people's expectation that they can actually control something which really they cannot control—for example, the near miss that was referred to. Of course, if you are someone who makes machines you are going to try to build in as many near-miss experiences as you can to give people the impression that they have almost won and to give people the impression they have got more control than they have. So I agree with education, but if there is to be gambling and the gambling industry is to make money it depends on people misunderstanding probability and randomness.

  28. Should we educate? I think the Bishop said not at school.
  (Bishop of Blackburn) I think you cannot put the over-reliance on the schools. That is the point I am making. To imagine that if you simply add something else to the curriculum in school that is going to work it has got to be much more in the way of safeguards, such as in cigarette advertising. It is that kind of getting it into the system. I do agree that at the end of the day I do not think you are going to get it across. I am sorry to be so cynical about that.
  (Mr Bellringer) I would slightly disagree with the Bishop by saying that some of it can be done in school. We were talking about odds earlier. That, very much, could lend itself to the curriculum through understanding money. Some of the issues would be inappropriate because it would burden the schools. One other thing I would like to say is that a lot of people actually do not really care whether they understand the odds or not. That is not why they gamble, they gamble because they are buying entertainment. A lot of people enjoy it; it is just part of the fun and if they win it is a bonus, which is actually what we advocate—all of us should look at gambling that way. We should not lose sight of the fact that education about gambling activity per se should be about not losing control, keeping it as a fun activity that you can enjoy and walk away from.

  29. Does that not mean we should be particularly careful about damaging the bingo halls, which is an out-and-out social activity with gambling involved because people like to win? We have to be careful we do not damage that industry.
  (Mr Bellringer) There is a strong social element within some gambling activities, in particular such as bingo clubs, and, indeed, a lot of gaming premises. There is a lot of caring that goes on within those establishments to the customers. Add that caring to a commitment to social responsibility by the operators and I think you have a community amenity that I would be very sorry to see disappear.

Mr Doran

  30. I am interested in pressing a little further on the funding, particularly the points Mr Bellringer made. As I understand it, you have funding from the National Lottery.
  (Mr Bellringer) Through the Community Fund and through the Lottery operator individually, yes.

  31. That is on a case-by-case basis for projects, presumably. You also get funding from the industry. It is that area I am interested in particularly. Can you say a little bit more about that? Is it regular and consistent, so you can plan on the basis, for example, of what you are likely to get next year, or does it change?

   (Mr Bellringer) I am glad you raised that issue because it is a good start, as I said before, but it is not good enough yet. In fact, as the major charity (and indeed Gordon House, the residential facility) we have suffered for years with uncertainty of funding in the future, and we still face that. I find it quite difficult to plan ahead. I will write a business plan and write budgets and then have to row back from that year after year because we do not realise what we need to achieve. We have to be very careful about how we advertise our services and promote our services so that we do not get swamped. What is needed, not just for GamCare but for all those organisations working with the social impact of gambling that can prove effectiveness and value for money, is certainty of funding over a three to five year period and they need adequate resources to actually do the job. We do not know at the moment. We know the number of people who have got a problem and the number of people adversely affected—that is 3.5 million—but we do not know the level at which people will access help because not everybody knows about that help, and we need to reach that and provide those services with a certainty that they will be there across the UK.

  32. So more funding, more consistent funding and the ability to plan ahead. Mr Collins mentioned the South African example where the gambling commission would gather from public sources and from private sources. Would you be in favour of a levy on the industry?

  (Mr Bellringer) We, like almost everybody else, would like to see the voluntary method of funding succeed. So far, I do not think it has proved that it has succeeded. At the end of the day, we must have all those services in place, and if that means a statutory levy, which would be quite simple to—

  33. Not a statutory levy, you could have a voluntary levy.
  (Mr Bellringer) Or a voluntary levy, but something attached to the licence fee, so that in order to get a licence you would have to pay something. That would be a fair system, and it would ensure that the right amounts of money are available for those organisations providing the services.
  (Mr Collins) That is a sort of hypothecated tax. What I would say and what I think most people would agree with is you have to have that in reserve. If either the industry as a whole or some sectors within it simply say "Sorry, we are not going to spend this money on this; we do not recognise the obligation" you have got to have some mechanism for compelling them—if only to do justice to the people who do recognise the responsibility and so you avoid a free-riding problem. It is obviously much better for everybody if this is a collaborative exercise between the industry, regulators and service providers. That is the best model. If they are all agreeing on what needs to be done and how the money needs to be raised and allocated, that is a better model.

  34. So, a discussion to have?
  (Mr Bellringer) What is absolutely crucial is that whatever body is making these decisions it has to be independent. It is absolutely vital. They have done it in New Zealand and that is a model system. If it is dominated by any one of the major stakeholders, there is bias.

  35. Most of you will probably be familiar with the film It's a Wonderful Life, the Frank Kapra film. If you remember, George Bailey's vision of hell was a street which was full of casinos, pubs, clubs etc., which is a lot like our city centres today. The whole question of morals seems to have changed very distinctly since the late forties when that film was made. From what I hear from most of you, you are dealing with the problems of gambling but most of you are accepting the principle of gambling. Is that the proper decision to take, given where most of you are coming from?
  (Mr Bellringer) If you go back to the beginning, gambling is a natural activity. It is more natural than drinking alcohol. It is in our psyche to take risks as human beings and gambling is a stylised form of that. Running the major social responsibility organisation, we would much prefer to have gambling activities legal, regulated and properly controlled than driven underground. They would be driven underground. They are underground now. They exploit people the whole time. We cannot work with those people who are doing that. We would want to see a properly regulated industry that thrives with those operators that that social responsibility is within that regulatory framework. That has to be demonstrated for people to get a licence.
  (Bishop of Blackburn) It seems to me that there is a model position which some hold, a small number these days, that it is utterly wrong to risk in this particular way but it is much more significant to note the degree. People are going to enjoy themselves and if you are not careful you can find people who do gamble, though they do not realise it. They have raffles; they have draws and all these kinds of things but what they are concerned about is the regulation, the degree and the extent of it all. In a civilised society, it seems to me that that is a perfectly reasonable position to take. We are concerned with proper regulation to ensure that people are sometimes protected even from themselves.

Mr Bryant

  36. We must surely rely on the Methodists to tell us that gambling is immoral?
  (Ms Lampard) There are many people within not just the Methodist church but other churches who do not gamble personally and have those theological, ethical problems with gambling but the church when engaging in this kind of issue is not concerned so much with prohibition as what is effective regulation. Regulation has to be about minimising harm and the Methodist church has come to a position where we take very seriously the harm that gambling can do, but we are committed not to pursue trivia. It is focusing on what causes harm so I am not going to argue about buying lottery tickets and so on. It is very much putting it in the context of where gambling causes harm, what can be done to prevent it and the industry taking responsibility for that harm.

  37. There is a semi-theological snobbery around gambling in the country, is there not?
  (Bishop of Blackburn) What do you mean by that?

  38. I think I mean that there will be a lot of people who would welcome the liberalisation of gambling laws but at the same time would not necessarily want their own towns to have a casino because they would think that somehow then their town was going down a dodgy route, sort of, "Sit down, you are rocking the boat."
  (Bishop of Blackburn) I sometimes think that people who take that line have not got too much knowledge about what that might mean. That is also part of the educative process. It seems to me there are casinos and casinos. When you go to the States you see the difference, but what has been proposed by the government is some kind of local planning control about what shall be in their town. I would share in what you were saying. Some places will say, It is not appropriate in this kind of place, but there will be other places which are fun places, like Blackpool, where it might be seen to be quite appropriate, properly regulated and properly planned and with all the safeguards that we have been talking about.

  39. Blackpool is in your diocese, is it not?
  (Bishop of Blackburn) Yes.


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