Andrew Woodman is a Cabinet Member on North West Leicestershire District Council.
They say what goes around comes around, and the current movement in the debate around gambling suggests that we’re potentially going backwards by a 100 years if some of those in the Gambling Harm APPG get their wish.
Now I do not doubt the good intentions of this group, however the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and some of the proposals coming from MPs associated with the APPG risk damaging not only the gambling companies, but also secondary industries such as horse racing and greyhound racing which employ tens of thousands and rely on betting to fund the sport.
For the benefit of transparency, I am a punter and have been for over 20 years. My interest in the industry has led me to read a book by Jamie Ward about a well-known bookmaker Victor Chandler, and a passage in it strikes me as highly relevant to the debate today. It recalls the world the bookmaker’s grandfather operated in when ‘hundreds of off course betting shops were closed in 1853 on the order of the Government, supposedly to protect innocent punters from dishonest bookies, but really to placate anti-gambling sentiment and control the behaviour of the lower orders.’ It goes on to point out that all prohibition actually achieved was to create a vast illicit off course industry which continued until the shops were legalised again in 1961.
At a recent party conference fringe meeting, one MP floated the idea of a maximum loss of £100 a month, and another stated he felt people were staking too much, and should therefore by subject to affordability checks. Apart from the fact that the 99 per cent plus of punters (thought to be 30 million people) who do not have an issue would be subject to intrusive checks on enjoying a perfectly legal pastime spending their own money, all this will serve to do is empower a black unregulated market, with Whatsapp replacing bookies runners, and a huge loss to revenue to sport and the exchequer. I know for a fact this is already happening and like all prohibition measures (for that is what these are), it will empower the underground market.
Then we have the latest idea to deal with problem gambling from the Gambling Commission and that’s the invidious ‘Single Customer View’. Notionally a plan to observe all the accounts held by punters to monitor those who are out of control, but more likely to be used by bookmakers to identify potentially unprofitable customers and ban or restrict their business. Although the Gambling Commission deny this, there are no details forthcoming from them on how this will be managed and by whom. Again, all this risks doing is driving punters to the unregulated black market.
It must be noted that according to the regulator, the rate of problem gambling is now 0.3 per cent, compared to 0.6 per cent at the end of September last year, that’s equivalent to a fall from 340,000 problem gamblers to 170,000 problem gamblers. What’s more, those classed as being at moderate risk of harm also fell significantly, from 1.2 per cent to 0.7 per cent, over the same period.
We Conservatives are seen as being pragmatic. Whether you are pro, anti or ambivalent about gambling, please do take a step back and look at this issue in a rounded way. There are many who would like to see gambling banned, but prohibition is like socialism, it’s been tried and it simply fails, you cannot control people in this way.
Far better to have a functioning betting industry which helps assist those prone to addiction and which contributes to the exchequer and the sports it relies on. The Gambling Commission would be far better served looking at the software bookmakers already used to identify winners (which has closed virtually all my accounts), to spot those at risk of harm, rather than investing in anti-punter big brother solutions. It’s clear the main problems are the unskilled slots and casinos rather than sports betting and it there that the main effort in identifying those at risk of harm should be pursued.