Mak­ing foot­ball a Win­stone-free zone should be just the start

De­ci­sion to take bet­ting ad­verts off our screens dur­ing games is wel­come but more needs to be done to tackle the scourge of gam­bling ad­dic­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

Any­body who has crossed the thresh­old of a Las Ve­gas casino can hardly fail to have no­ticed the ab­sence of clocks. Through de­pri­va­tion of both nat­u­ral light and, cru­cially, the abil­ity to tell the time, guests are se­duced into what the gam­bling in­dus­try likes to call “hy­per­fo­cus”, where any best-laid plans dis­solve amid the am­bi­ent, ag­i­tat­ing ca­coph­ony of one-armed ban­dits, whose ju­bi­lant bells and sirens are all de­signed to re­in­force the brain’s pos­i­tive feed­back loop.

In sport, the bet­ting gi­ants try the same in­sid­i­ous med­dling with the mind, to the point where the foot­ball match you are watch­ing be­comes al­most in­ci­den­tal to the flut­ters you can have. Dur­ing this year’s World Cup, the bom­bard­ment was re­morse­less, with ITV de­vot­ing 90 min­utes – roughly one sixth of its to­tal ad­ver­tis­ing time – to the full ex­ot­ica of Rus­sian wa­gers, from po­ten­tial Luis Suarez bit­ing tar­gets to which song Rob­bie Wil­liams would per­form first at the open­ing cer­e­mony.

All just harm­less mer­ri­ment? A di­ver­sion from drudgery for re­spon­si­ble adults? Not if you read the de­ci­sion yes­ter­day by the Re­mote Gam­bling As­so­ci­a­tion to stop ad­verts dur­ing live sports broad­casts, after fierce crit­i­cism that they both nor­malised bet­ting and en­cour­aged un­der-age ad­dic­tion. There will be a temp­ta­tion to de­pict this as a rare dis­play of self-aware­ness by book­mak­ers, al­though it seems lit­tle more than cav­ing into the truth. As even Bryn Lu­cas, whose allegiance might have been de­duced from his role pre­sent­ing Su­percasino, a live roulette show on the Chan­nel Five grave­yard shift, put it: “About b----- time.”

The RGA’S ac­tion pre-empts its own mo­ment of reck­on­ing. For it is a long-es­tab­lished truth that if big busi­nesses do not take steps to reg­u­late them­selves, then gov­ern­ments will step in to do it for them, and of­ten in a far more dra­co­nian fash­ion.

Still, it feels like a sem­i­nal junc­ture in Bri­tish cul­tural life that Ray Win­stone’s weather-beaten face shall no longer be foisted on the pub­lic like the CGI ver­sion of Franken­stein’s mon­ster.

“It’s all about the in-play,” the na­tion’s favourite geezer would growl. “It’s all about the next goal, the num­ber of cor­ners, the match goals, the fi­nal score, the next goal method, the num­ber of cards.”

Such is the ubiq­uity that Win­stone has achieved through his Bet365 cam­paigns that one can scarcely glance at a list of odds with­out hear­ing his grav­elly en­treaty to “have a bang on that”.

But the coun­try is fi­nally recog­nis­ing that his Cock­ney bad­i­nage con­ceals an en­ter­prise of bound­less cyn­i­cism, where a quiet Sun­day af­ter­noon on the sofa brings un­lim­ited chances to be fleeced for ev­ery penny you have. At its ex­tremes, gam­bling can be no less per­ni­cious an ad­dic­tion than smok­ing.

And yet, where cig­a­rette pack­ets must now carry im­ages of dis­eased lungs or grue­some tu­mours to warn off would-be users, bet­ting com­mer­cials come with only a to­kenis­tic re­minder to gam­ble re­spon­si­bly.

Un­der the lat­est rules, all matches that start be­fore the 9pm water­shed have been pro­tected from the in-play bet­ting plague. In part, this was a re­ac­tion to the dawn-till-dusk shrill­ness of World Cup bet pro­mo­tions. Of late, though, it has ap­peared as if no cor­ner of sport is im­mune. For this year’s Aus­tralian Open men’s fi­nal, 19 of the 20 TV ad­vert breaks, which be­gan as early as 8.15am, fea­tured a spot for a bet­ting firm. Wel­come to the brave new world, where no sooner have you poured the ce­real milk than you are as­sailed by the first scream­ing urges of Chris Ka­mara to “edit your acca”.

Grown adults might find this a temp­ta­tion they can well re­sist. But among chil­dren, the re­sponse pat­terns can be far more cor­ro­sive. Sur­veys sug­gest that a third of chil­dren with mo­bile phones have a gam­bling app, and that a quar­ter of them have placed a bet. This squares with a di­ag­no­sis by the Gam­bling Com­mis­sion that 25,000 11-16-year-olds are “prob­lem gam­blers”. Jack Ritchie, from Sh­effield, started gam­bling in the first year of A-lev­els, pour­ing his lunch money into fixed-odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals. Seven years later, he killed him­self.

One would like to imag­ine that


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