Bishop warns fail­ure to act on gam­bling will cost lives

The Observer - - News - Jamie Doward & Rob Davies ON THE WEB

A se­nior Church of Eng­land bishop to­day launched a blis­ter­ing at­tack on the gov­ern­ment’s de­lay in in­tro­duc­ing lim­its on fixed-odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals.

In an on­line ar­ti­cle for the Ob­server, the bishop of St Al­bans said the new £2 limit on stakes – down from £100 – should be in­tro­duced “at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity” if more peo­ple ad­dicted to the ter­mi­nals (FOBTs) were not “to take their lives in des­per­a­tion”.

Dr Alan Smith, who leads for the church on the is­sue, was speak­ing out af­ter the sports min­is­ter, Tracey Crouch, re­signed in protest at the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion, an­nounced in the bud­get, to push the in­tro­duc­tion of the new £2 limit back from April next year to the fol­low­ing Oc­to­ber.

Ac­cus­ing book­mak­ers and foot­ball clubs spon­sored by gam­bling firms of “pri­vatis­ing profit and na­tion­al­is­ing the con­se­quences”, Smith ex­pressed deep reser­va­tions about the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to de­lay the in­tro­duc­tion in the face of sus­tained lob­by­ing from the gam­bling in­dus­try – which claims the new limit will force book­mak­ers to get rid of staff.

But Smith dis­missed the claim, writ­ing: “Los­ing a job which can be re­placed does not equate to los­ing a life which can­not.”

He ar­gued that the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to de­lay was at odds with those “politi­cians and cam­paign­ers [who] are united in seek­ing the ear­li­est pos­si­ble in­tro­duc­tion of the max­i­mum £2 stake for FOBTs which will al­le­vi­ate some of the dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences of peo­ple ad­dicted to gam­bling on them, some who can lose their homes and sav­ings to them and then take their lives in des­per­a­tion.

“Book­mak­ers tak­ing huge prof­its and foot­ball clubs tak­ing spon­sor­ship from gam­bling and leav­ing the NHS to pick up the bill and fam­i­lies to face grief is pri­vatis­ing profit and na­tion­al­is­ing con­se­quences. It has to stop.”

His com­ments came as Sky, one of the UK’s largest com­mer­cial broad­cast­ers, an­nounced moves to limit the num­ber of gam­bling ad­verts on its channels, a sign that even the bet­ting in­dus­try’s close al­lies are start­ing to ac­knowl­edge the im­pact it can have on some peo­ple.

From the start of the 2019/20 Pre­mier League foot­ball sea­son, the broad­caster will per­mit only one gam­bling ad per com­mer­cial break. It is also up­dat­ing its ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy, called AdS­mart, to al­low view­ers to block gam­bling ads from June 2020 on plat­forms where the com­pany con­trols ad­ver­tis­ing .

Ear­lier this year Sky told the Depart­ment for Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport that rules on ad­ver­tis­ing were suf­fi­cient. In a state­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing its new pol­icy, the broad­caster said it was re­spond­ing to pub­lic mis­giv­ings about an ex­plo­sion in gam­bling ads in re­cent years.

“Our cus­tomers are wor­ried about gam­bling ads on TV – and we un­der­stand their con­cerns,” said Sky’s UK chief ex­ec­u­tive, Stephen van Rooyen. “That’s why we’ve com­mit­ted to lim­it­ing the amount of gam­bling ads on Sky and bet­ter pro­tect­ing those vul­ner­a­ble to prob­lem gam­bling.”

“Young peo­ple are among the ad­dicts los­ing their lives af­ter FOBT ad­dic­tion, young peo­ple are see­ing on aver­age of four ad­ver­tise­ments for gam­bling every day, es­pe­cially those in­volved with sport­ing events or on foot­ball shirts and there is now ev­i­dence that some con­sole and on­line gam­ing is as­so­ci­ated with a form of gam­bling,” Smith wrote. “Some stu- dents see gam­bling as a way of help­ing with stu­dent debt. All this is nor­mal­is­ing gam­bling as in­te­gral to sport, gam­ing, a night out or even study and as fun. No ad­dic­tion is fun.”

Si­mon Stevens, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the NHS, re­cently crit­i­cised eight bet­ting firms that spon­sor Pre­mier League foot­ball clubs, for re­fus­ing to pay to­wards the costs the NHS faces in tack­ling gam­bling ad­dic­tion.

Smith said the bet­ting firms needed to play their part. “I am not anti-busi­ness. I am pro-vic­tims. I am an­gry about im­punity.”

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Wat­son, who said ear­lier this year that, if elected, the party would in­tro­duce a blan­ket “whis­tle-to-whis­tle” ban on gam­bling ads dur­ing live sports, de­scribed Sky’s move as a “step in the right di­rec­tion”.

“The gov­ern­ment has con­sis­tently ig­nored the ev­i­dence of the ef­fects of gam­bling ad­ver­tis­ing on vul­ner­a­ble groups and young peo­ple, so I am pleased that broad­cast­ers and gam­bling op­er­a­tors are recog­nis­ing these harms and look­ing at prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions,” Wat­son said. End fixed-odds bet­ting scourge See Ob­server Com­ment on­line

The bishop of St Al­bans, Dr Alan Smith, called for the ‘ear­li­est pos­si­ble’ in­tro­duc­tion of £2 limit.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.