Clean up appeal
Predictably the appeal made by Silvio Schembri MP in Parliament on Tuesday night did not even register with the Maltese public.
The hour was late, the papers closed, and most probably many people will have switched off their Parliament viewing at the end of a drowsy sitting.
But Mr Schembri’s appeal deserves a wider public hearing.
In his speech, apart from other issues, Mr Schembri appealed for some sort of control over the many betting shops that have mushroomed in our towns and villages.
He correctly pointed out that some of the most distressed areas, towns or villages, seem to have the most betting shops and wondered if there was a correlation.
He was careful not to politicise the issue but actually this blight is mostly the result of the inability of the PN administration to tackle the problem. The succeeding PL administration, of which Mr Schembri forms part, did nothing either.
The result is what we can see around us in most towns and villages – betting shops offering not just the Maltco lotteries, which would be acceptable on the whole, but instant betting opportunities on races, football matches and what not offered on satellite televisions.
All this can be done from home by people who have Internet. But these betting shops (for want of a better term) exist precisely for people who do not have Internet, hence the lower levels of society.
There are today efforts both by Maltco and by the Gaming Authority to control heavy betting especially in shops (since they are almost powerless to deal with the private person in his home on his computer) but the very fact these shops seem to thrive and multiply in most villages and towns seems to indicate business is thriving.
Admittedly, there are huge legal obstacles to really control this sector. But the legal arguments that were brought in to enable the widespread proliferation of these betting shops found a government that was weak to impose restrictions.
One can go to any other country abroad and one will surely not find this amount of concentration in towns and villages. There must be something that works abroad but which is not working here.
We are not told the figures, but there must be figures somewhere that tell of people falling into the poverty trap by frequent attendance at such shops. There must be stories waiting to be discovered about people falling victims to money lenders, amassing huge debts, breaking up families, etc.
Possibly, one argument that may have carried the day when this system was allowed was that just as almost all types of shops are allowed to be set up and the risk being carried by the owners only, so too there had to be no limit on the people who opened betting shops in the towns and villages.
It is a sad comment that there are limits to open a pharmacy but no limits to open a betting shop.