Bishop warns failure to act on gambling will cost lives
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.