HC 1554 Gambling

Written evidence submitted by GRASP (The Gambling Reform & Society Perception Group) (GA 077)

One of the main objectives of the 2005 Gambling Act was to protect young and vulnerable gamblers.

Addicts have increased by 50% and the stats for 12-15 year olds are even worse.

Something is badly going wrong and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to find out why.

Please act to try and stamp out problem gambling. The 2010 BPS survey indicated that 3.5 million adults are having issues with their gambling.

It's not even the 3.5 million adults who are most effected, it's their loved ones so the figures are people burned by problem gambling is huge.

John Penrose, DCMS & Jeremy Hint have ignored every approach we've made to help which has all been logged, but I'm going to be brief on matters you need to address.

1) Stop allowing children to gamble on Fruit Machines with a jackpot of £5 or less. Have your morals gone out of the window?

2) Give power back to local authorities to say no to 10 bookies in a street.

3) Tackle FOBT machines, like Australia are tackling pokies. These high intensity machines are killing people & creating addicts. Why allow £100 per spin every 20 seconds, an addicts dream. Bookies do not monitor how much or where the money comes from as they're just a profit machine. Profit means lives are bring ruined. Don't allow an increase in machine and roll out pre commitment. It won't effect normal gamblers it's just stops problem gambling. You won't do anything as without problem gambling the industrys profits half.

4) Why double the stake for B3 machines but not the jackpot? Again increasing profit with no thought of the consequences.

5) Advertising - A real monster has been created. Impose a watershed, stop our daytime shows being sponsored by gambling, stop our sport being taken over by sponsorship, it's constantly in our childrens faces. Again, you did it with cigarettes so why is this any different.

6) Self Exlusion is a shambles, we have ideas for a better scheme. There is no punishment for LBO's who constantly allow people to re-gamble after excluding. If they lose it's fine if they win they don't pay them.

7) withdrawl reverse - stop online companies from allowing people yo change their mind about a withdrawal up to 3 days later.

8) Daily Deposits - European neighbours have a daily maximum that can be deposited, why do we allow up to £100k a day. The commission say gambling is a leisure activity, not for making money so reduce it.

9) Credit Cards - One of the key indicators of a gambling addiction is borrowing money to gamble. How is it responsible for our banks to allow people to borrow to gamble? They rely on the fact they'll pay it back at high interest over years to hide their shame. They know an addict will max it out.

10) You have public awareness videos for everything but not problem gambling. Why?

11) Increase funding for GP's who don't understand gambling addiction.

12) increase education for the young, society and employers. Addicts show no outward sighs and can ruin lives and businesses if innocent people.

13) If you adopt Singapores policy of opting in to gamble, you can stop people on benefits from gambling.

14) start making the Industry take some responsibility. Currently a person can be self harming or hand a wad of stolen money and they ask no questions. They are not following their code of practice when people are abusing their product and we have the stories to prove it to the press. Their PR response and what actually happens is totally different and we can prove it. Put warnings on betting slips, fine them when they still write or phone people when they've self excluded or allow them to bet.

15) Curb the opening hours, betfred are about to pilot opening from 8am til midnight. You don't need me to tell you that no sport is on they just want addicts money on the FOBTs.

An anonymised case study

Read this if you want to know the truth:

Let me say at the outset that although I write this as a compulsive/problem gambler, the intention is not to blame the gaming industry wholly for what has happened to me; I would simply like to give you an alternative view to the one currently being given by the gaming industry, to give a balanced argument, particularly with regard to the FOBT's (fixed odds betting terminals). For sure I have raged and railed against the industry; when you have lost everything - literally everything - it is easy enough to do, but now, with some hard non-gambling time behind me, I can see things a little more clearly and now my main concern is about how many other people, particularly young people, are getting into appalling trouble from playing these machines.

The industry are selling and promoting FOBT's and gambling on the one hand as being 'fun and entertainment' and for 93% of the adult population it is, whilst the other side of the coin is the elephant in the room. People like me that have got into horrendous problems playing them are dismissed as being a tiny minority, almost meaningless, One industry spokesman recently said he was actually fed up of having to talk about 'this tiny minority'. Remember this 7% minority equates to 3.5 million adults in Great Britain and even this figure is only gleaned from surveys and problem gamblers who are already adept at lying to keep their addiction a secret are not likely to to reveal all, so this figure is likely to be even higher.

It seems to me that the industry take real advantage of the shame that is associated with having a problem with gambling, most gamblers are unwilling to admit that they lost their homes and families, or stole from work or friends simply to play an innocuous fruit machine situated down the road from where they live. Do something similar as an alchoholic or drug addict and very likely you will be sent to a clinic or rehab centre, and have structured support, as a gambler you'll feel trapped, little support structure, and knowing how you'll be viewed if you come clean. It's so easy to hide, because I don't have track marks or scars on my arms, I don't slur my speech, I'm not falling over in the street, I'm not shaking and rattling and my eyes are not clouded over, nobody knew just how serious an addict I had become.

Today there are thousands upon thousands of these machines situated in virtually every corner of this land - they're everywhere, in every high street, council estate, village and town, they're in bus and rail terminals. The bookmakers argue that in this time of recession they are providing jobs and entertainment, no mention of where the profits are coming from to be opening these shops at such a prodigeous rate, and total denial that it is anything to do with FOBT's.

Let me ask a simple question - why - if it is nothing to do with the machines - are the shops open at 8.30am and close at 9.30pm (in some places I believe it is 7.30am and 10.00pm)? There will be some events going on I guess at those time's for sure, but it really doesn't take a professor of gambling to work out that it is simply another way of making the machines available to as many people as possible. They'll even open on Christmas Eve, when there is no actual sport taking place so they can allow FOBT's to be played. You may say fair enough, what's wrong with that? Let me try and explain because the industry won't.

Roulette is a notoriously addictive game in any form, why else was it that for many, many years the only place you could play it (for reasonably high stakes) was in a casino. Casino's were highly regulated and invariably would only be located in cities or large towns, they required 24/48 hour membership, a dress code; there were maximum cheque cashing limits and credit card restrictions (if allowed at all). Each casino was strictly monitored, by the gaming board and auditors. If you wanted to play roulette you had to make some effort to do so, and you also knew were playing a transparent game - you were either lucky or not, simple as.

Some people have called the FOBT's the 'crack cocaine' of gambling, putting virtual roulette on a high speed, high stakes machine would seem to confirm that analogy. Put simply, it is now possible for you to get out of bed, travel down the road at 7.30am and feed upto £100 into the FOBT for one spin, a few seconds later you can do it again. You can keep on doing it all day long, feeding thousands and thousands into a fruit machine, nobody, unless you smash or head-butt the thing (an increasing occurrence) will take the slightest notice of you. If you're short of liquid cash, you can pay by visa or credit card, no problem, no restrictions, no questions, as much as is in your account. If feeding notes into the machine is laborious or difficult, no worries, simply give your money to the cashier and he/she will 'top up' your machine. One bookmaker recently ran with the slogan 'keep it safe, keep it secure, keep it discreet' to promote paying by card, next to the FOBT's.

If placing your chips is a bit tedious or slow, there is a repeat button that does everything for you, and even an auto button so you don't even have to press start. The cumulative effect is that there can only be seconds between each spin; exactly the formula for turning anyone into a potential addict, actually I am not even sure that you need to be an addict, it's just so ridiculously easy to lose thousands and in a panic try to get it back. In 2008, Gambling Commission chairman Brian Pomeroy wrote to then sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe to say the machines were "particularly attractive to problem gamblers and those with a gambling problem".

'For a long time I really felt alone with this addiction, I'd gotten into problems with roulette before FOBT's came along but had turned my life around by simply notgoing to casino's, new home, job, friends and slowly rebuilding a family life. I still enjoyed a bet, sensibly and responsibly on the horses or dogs, studying form and debating/discussing all manner of stuff with fellow punters/shop staff . Then the FOBT's came along and everything changed, much worse than anything that had gone before. I wont be the first or last to tell you that the atmosphere changed in our betting shops when FOBT's came along and they were turned into mini soulless casino's.

While a bylaw in 2004 limited the number of machines per shop to four, the 2005 Gambling Act relaxed laws on the number of shops bookmakers could open in an area. In 2007, betting shops no longer had to demonstrate demand before opening premises, thus you have the explosion of bookmakers in our high streets. In July, 2009, Lewisham council requested the Gambling Act be amended to allow councils to limit the number of bookies’ in an area. Its application was rejected. On the 17th May 2011, 221 labour MP's voted to give local people power to say no to more betting shops and the Conservatives and Lib Dem's voted against it. The Gambling Commission, set up by the Government to regulate the 2005 Gambling Act, said in 2009/10 bookies in the UK made a profit of £1.2billion from gaming machines. In the worst economic period in living memory this amount is staggering.

The industry will tell you they're simply responding to demand. Recently David Lammy MP said "People 'demand' the opportunity to gamble away money they do not have, just like people "demand" money from loan sharks at extortionate interest rates. This is a warped, empty type of freedom, in which the powerful are free to exploit the vulnerable. Unless we establish some speed limits on the road, we are only going to need more and more ambulances".

The thing is it is so difficult to understand, more so, to try and explain the nature of this addiction to these machines, particularly to people that have no idea about them. I now know of many others that have got into horrendous problems on them - good, honest people, so very quickly - people from all walks of life, many who are to ashamed to admit the problems they have got into because of an innocently portrayed fruit machine.

It is understandable that the gaming industry would try and promote these machines, to maximise the profits for their shareholders, but it is outrageous and disingenuous for them to dismiss the problems they are causing by hiding behind misinformation, ignorance, fear, secrecy and perhaps worst of all by claiming they are 100% committed to supporting 'problem gambling. For greater transparency the industry are asked to pay 0.085% of their Gross Profits to the GREaT Foundation to support 'Problem Gambling', which goes towards research, education and treatment. For an industry that makes billions, the 0.085% donation/levy not only needs to be increased across the board but the Gambling Commission needs to be proactive rather than reactive. One of licensing objectives of the Gambling Act is the protection of young people and the vulnerable from the harm that can be caused by problem gambling, which has increased by 50% since the 2005 Gambling Act came into force in 2007, which proves something is fueling this

Whilst FOBT's did not make the top five betting habits in the Prevalence Survey, which was published in February 2011, members of GA & Gamcare paint a different picture with regards to the misery caused by FOBT's. with the National Problem Gambling clinic in Soho reporting over 50% of new clients have an FOBT addiction.  

It has always bothered me that the 'major players' in helping problem gamblers have never wanted to publicly address the issues that are causing people to come to them in the first place. Recently I came across the Gambling Reform & Society Perception Group (GRASP) who are trying to raise public awareness of problem gambling and tighten legislation regarding some of the issues I've mentioned above. Let me be clear, this group has never been and never will be anti-gambling, one of it's main remits is to simply try and make people aware of the inherent dangers in this new era of virtual gambling, to counter balance the glossy adverts and slick promotions.

Whilst it may just be a possibility for you to pay off your mortgage, it's far more likely that you will lose more than just your pocket change and people need to be educated, to know the risks.

With virtually every other addiction there are stringent safeguards or at least some kind of warning system - why should gambling, with all it's potentially lethal outcomes be any different?

About GRASP (The Gambling Reform & Society Perception Group): GRASP was established in October 2010. The group's primary objectives are to lobby government, tighten legislation and raise awareness of problem gambling in Great Britain. To date GRASP is the only lobby group for recovering gamblers who wish to aid their recovery and talk openly about their addiction, which can assist in our goal for a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one, relating to problem gaming in Britain. www.grasp-group.org 

June 2011

Prepared 20th October 2011