Saturday, 4 August 2012

File under ‘You Couldn’t Make It Up'

There is a largely secret and growing problem within our society. It is addiction to gambling. Online gambling has increased the problem. Addicts talk about it not feeling ‘real’ and losses are measured as Monopoly Money. But it is not unreal. There is a bill to be paid which can run into thousands. The pressure then builds to win back the losses by betting money the addict does not have. At this point embezzlement, fraud and theft become much more likely. As does suicide. 
As a lad growing up in an area of Manchester which contained more than the usual number of characters, it became clear to me very early on the damage that gambling could do to a family. A dad who bet his wages before they were paid, leaving his family with nothing to live on but the charity of the local shop and neighbours. A wife who bet the child allowance with similar outcomes. The effect on their children.
At that time gambling existed in the shadows of society. Over time it has emerged into the sunlight with the connivance and support of both major parties. The betting industry is now massive and international. Many countries are making efforts to rein it in. Not here.
“Everything is good for a bet nowadays, and the other day – quietly, while the Olympics were taking centre-stage – life became even rosier for Britain's vastly wealthy gambling industry. Launching the Commons culture committee's report into the 2005 Gambling Act, its chair John Whittingdale declared that "the 'reluctantly permissive' tone of gambling legislation of the last 50 years now looks outdated".
Apparently ignoring statistics which show a rapid annual increase in problem gambling, the committee suggested a series of measures which will make the British more addicted than ever. In High Street betting shops, the current limit of four slot machines, often described as "the crack cocaine of gambling", was thought to be too restrictive and should be increased to 20 per shop.
Why? Because the market demands it. Bookmakers are the only businesses making money in town centres, and clusters of them have been appearing as other shops fold. It would make more business sense, the committee believes, if there are even larger betting shops, offering more gambling opportunities......
..It seems we've learnt nothing during the recession. An obsession with profit – even what many would regard as tainted profit – is allowed to cause misery and social harm. According to the latest Betting Gambling Prevalence Survey, published last month, seven million people are now "at risk". Also at risk, incidentally, are future surveys into gambling addiction. Government funding for them has been cut.” Terence Blacker Independent 3/8/12

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