Why I refuse to cheer the £200m earned last year by Bri­tain’s high­est paid woman

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Clare Fo­ges

B Y ANY mea­sure, it is an as­ton­ish­ing tale. A young, com­pre­hen­sive school ed­u­cated woman named Denise Coates starts a busi­ness from a Por­tak­abin in a car park in Stoke-on-Trent.

She toils for years to make her com­pany a suc­cess. By age 50, she is earn­ing nearly £200mil­lion, mak­ing her Bri­tain’s high­est-paid woman with a net worth of £3bil­lion.

It’s surely a cause for cel­e­bra­tion — un­til you re­alise that her for­tune has been built on the backs of the ad­dicted and the hope­less.

For as founder of book­maker Bet365.com, Miss Coates is the queen of the UK’s on­line gam­bling in­dus­try, a par­a­site that feeds off the dreams of the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble with prom­ises of easy money.

Yes, gam­bling is as old as the hills. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists have found dice dat­ing back 3,000 years. We are hard-wired to en­joy the adren­a­line as the cards are turned or the num­bers called.

Des­per­ate

But in re­cent years this ageold vice has been tur­bocharged by mod­ern tech­nol­ogy — and it is de­stroy­ing lives across Bri­tain.

On­line gam­bling ad­dic­tion is at epi­demic lev­els. The Gam­bling Com­mis­sion es­ti­mates that the num­ber of prob­lem gam­blers has soared by a third in three years, with around 430,000 deemed to have a se­ri­ous habit.

Prob­lem gam­bling has been dubbed the ‘in­vis­i­ble ad­dic­tion’ — with its vic­tims liv­ing an out­wardly nor­mal life while sink­ing ever deeper into debt.

Trag­i­cally, many gam­bling ad­dicts are so des­per­ate they see only one way out. The Na­tional Coun­cil on Prob­lem Gam­bling has es­ti­mated that one in five prob­lem gam­blers at­tempts to kill them­selves.

Many are piti­fully young. Omair Abbas was 18 when he was found dead in the River Ely in Cardiff, hav­ing gam­bled away more than £5,000 on on­line bet­ting sites.

Ryan My­ers, a 27-year-old carpenter en­gaged to be mar­ried, killed him­self in 2014. His par­ents only then dis­cov­ered he’d been caught in a web of debts and loans.

Of course, the debt trap has al­ways been a prob­lem for gam­blers. The jour­nal­ist and in­fa­mous gam­bler Jef­frey Bernard once ob­served that ‘in most bet­ting shops you will see three win­dows marked “Bet here”, but only one win­dow with the leg­end “Pay out”.’

The dif­fer­ence these days is that on­line gam­bling gives the ad­dict an op­por­tu­nity to bet 24/7. Now that smart­phones are so om­nipresent as to be ex­tra limbs on our bod­ies, the siren call of the slot ma­chine is al­ways there.

And there is the re­lent­less ad­ver­tis­ing, on TV and so­cial me­dia, to prod you into ac­tion. Since 2012, the in­dus­try has spent £1.4 bil­lion on ad­ver­tis­ing, with on­line casi­nos dou­bling their mar­ket­ing bud­gets in that time.

What I find most odi­ous is the ma­nip­u­la­tive style of this ad­ver­tis­ing. On­line book­mak­ers have a spe­cific tar­get in mind: young men who want to feel more pow­er­ful and more at­trac­tive. Feed­ing off the low self-es­teem of (of­ten poorly paid) men, the ad­verts take on a ma­cho, matey tone.

For years the face of Bet365 was rent-a-hard­man ac­tor Ray Win­stone, who would bel­low: ‘Al­right boys, look­ing for a bit of in-play ac­tion, are we? Any time, lads!’

Lad­brokes ran a TV cam­paign urg­ing pun­ters to live ‘The Lad­brokes Life’, shot in the style of hit film Lock, Stock And Two Smok­ing Bar­rels, fea­tur­ing a gang of mates who ‘are the dream­ers, the glory-seek­ers, the Wed­nes­day-night war­riors’.

One ad­vert for the web­site 21.co.uk showed a man sit­ting at a black­jack ta­ble in a tuxedo, a voiceover purring: ‘Heart ver­sus head. Emo­tion ver­sus rea­son. He makes his move. He makes his own luck.’

Mes­sage to the young man scrolling through his smart­phone: with a quick bet you, too, can be like James Bond in Casino Royale!

An even nas­tier side of the mar­ket­ing game was re­vealed re­cently. ‘Af­fil­i­ates’ are agen­cies paid to di­rect gam­blers to on­line casi­nos.

Ear­lier this year, some agen­cies posted ad­verts that ap­peared as news sto­ries, each claim­ing that a man had cleared his debts through on­line gam­bling.

One told the story of ‘Wil­liam’ who was ‘out of pocket for his wife’s can­cer-re­lated med­i­cal bills’. While in the hos­pi­tal, he ‘stum­bled upon an ad for Sky Ve­gas’ and a pro­mo­tion of a free £10 bet.

Lucky Wil­liam won ‘over 30 times his an­nual salary in a sin­gle spin’, bring­ing his wor­ries to an end.

The Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Au­thor­ity de­cided the ads ‘tar­geted vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple’ and ‘were so­cially ir­re­spon­si­ble’ — and stated that even though the af­fil­i­ates had placed the ads, they felt re­spon­si­bil­ity should lie with the as­so­ci­ated gam­bling com­pa­nies: Lad­brokes, 888, SkyBet and Ca­sumo.

An­other cyn­i­cal prac­tice is the har­vest­ing of pun­ters’ data. Third-party com­pa­nies use tan­ta­lis­ing on­line raf­fles in order to glean in­for­ma­tion from peo­ple about their in­come, credit sta­tus and so on. This in­for­ma­tion is then sold to the gam­bling firms, in order that they can pick off the poor­est and bom­bard them with ads.

Se­duced

Then there is the de­vi­ous of­fer­ing of free £10 ‘teaser’ bets — which come with a se­ri­ous st­ing in the tail. Cus­tomers may be forced to play hun­dreds of times be­fore they can with­draw their win­nings, mean­ing they can never quit while they’re ahead.

But per­haps the most wor­ry­ing as­pect of all is that chil­dren are now be­ing se­duced by the re­lent­less mar­ket­ing.

Gam­bling ad­ver­tise­ments are al­ready al­lowed dur­ing live sport­ing events, so kids think that half-time dur­ing the foot­ball is all about putting a bet on who’s next to score. Nine teams in the Pre­mier League are spon­sored by gam­bling com­pa­nies, the names of Fun88, Bet­way and Dafa­bet em­bla­zoned on the shirts of chil­dren’s heroes.

It gets worse. Some on­line com­pa­nies are of­fer­ing games that will clearly ap­peal to chil­dren. Paddy Power of­fers a Peter Pan game with bets start­ing at 20p. Wil­liam Hill has Frozen Fruits, a brightly coloured game which you can play for just 30p. There’s Uni­corn Bliss (min­i­mum 1p bet) and Hansel and Gre­tel, all ap­peal­ingly cute and cud­dly.

Many of these games don’t re­quire age ver­i­fi­ca­tion and can be played ‘for fun’; how­ever, the Gam­bling Com­mis­sion found that 6 per cent of 11 to 15-yearolds have gam­bled on­line us­ing par­ents’ ac­counts.

Out­law

By way of the tini­est fig leaf, gam­bling com­pa­nies prom­ise to cough up for char­i­ties that sup­port and coun­sel gam­bling ad­dicts.

In 2007, the in­dus­try agreed to give 0.1 per cent of its vast rev­enues to char­i­ties — but guess what? They are fail­ing to pay even this pal­try sum in full — just £8 mil­lion of an ex­pected £13.8 mil­lion last year.

The rot set in with the lax at­ti­tude taken by New Labour. The Gam­bling Act 2005 ush­ered in light-touch reg­u­la­tion and many of the prob­lems we see today. It seems no co­in­ci­dence that Denise Coates’s com­pa­nies have been Labour donors. Cer­tainly, the party has done her own cof­fers no harm.

The more re­cent Con­ser­va­tive Gov­ern­ment has hardly been any bet­ter. No doubt, the tax re­ceipts en­cour­age them to turn a blind eye — but a re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment would recog­nise that on­line gam­bling comes with mas­sive costs, too.

In­deed, the bill for Bri­tain’s gam­bling epi­demic is es­ti­mated at £1.16bil­lion a year.

A gov­ern­ment with any guts would step in. Ban gam­bling ad­ver­tis­ing al­to­gether. Limit the stakes al­lowed on on­line casi­nos. Out­law the games which are clearly child-friendly. Take reg­u­la­tion out of the in­dus­try’s hands.

With the mil­lions rolling in to com­pa­nies such as Bet365, will the in­dus­try find its own moral com­pass any time soon? I wouldn’t bet on it.

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