Perhaps it’s the (usually supressed) moralising Christian within me; maybe a self-confessed thrifty instinct. Whatever it is the result is the same – unequivocal scorn for the gambling industry, in all its guises. Not least its callous class targeting those least equipped to pay for the consequences of taking their ‘fun’ too far.
As a newly ‘adult’ young male I should form part of the demographic fodder of the industry. Indiscriminately preying upon the whimsical fantasy of young eternal optimists, the bevy of ‘flutter’ pushing bookmakers has, amidst World Cup festivities, reached epic proportions.
In a new tech-savvy App-driven culture, the ‘online gaming experience’ is more readily available than ever; as of 19th June 2014 7 of the top 100 free Apps were high street bookmakers on digital platforms. Potent new facilitators of instant betting, it reflects a broader shift online, with all its enticements of real time betting, constantly adjusting odds and of course instant transfer of money out of the users account. A new smartphone equipped 18-30 demographic lie prey to a virtual reality that sees at the innocuous tap of a button or swipe of a finger, the ready dispatching of a day’s wage.
Central to the ‘normalising’ such behaviours is the media’s aggressive campaign of marketing. During the recent World Cup, the ITV ad breaks were punctuated by the relaying the latest odds at frenzied speed. We’re long since acquainted to the Cockney ‘charm’ of Ray Winstone informing us the latest ‘in play odds’ across an array of markets; the adverts of said bookmakers competitors similarly dubious, not least in implicit appeal to a certain social grouping.
The infiltration of the betting industry into conventionally ‘working class’ football is stark, typified in the emblazoning of a recent tabloid World Cup score chart with promotional enticements for yet another gambling brand. Perhaps most infuriatingly, said wall chart is likely to adorn the walls of many a young eager football fan’s bedroom wall. Gambling companies adverts frequent interruptions before, during and after the football matches threaten to fatefully synonymise football with gambling. Perhaps the poster’s small writing: ‘We take your fun seriously. 18+ Bet responsibly’ tacitly alludes to the age indiscriminate ploy that threatens to taint the Beautiful Game for all spectators.
The gambling industry, in seeking to build upon successive year’s revenue growth of 7% against an otherwise subdued backdrop of other sectors stagnation, has unashamedly targeted the relatively deprived areas of the UK. In the face of Recession era business closures, local authorities across the North, as well as the more disadvantaged London inner boroughs, have all too readily licensed the big bookmakers to fill the void.
Mass openings have set a recent record of 9128 betting shops across the UK, yet crucially these are spatially concentrated in the most deprived corners of the country – Tower Hamlets alone has 81 licensed betting shops for a population of little over 250 000, working out at one shop per 3000 or so residents. The comparative figure for leafy, affluent Richmond upon Thames? One betting shop per 7200 residents. However crude a barometer, particularly in the new technological age, it nonetheless surely shows the broader focusing of betting companies upon poorer socio-economic groupings.
Gambling sector boom is a loss for us all. The fact that it brings in £700 million a year to the Treasury surely reasons the cross Party impotence on clamping down on excessive gambling promotion. However, the consequences of threatened addiction; even in cold monetary terms, are much greater than the perils of taking action. The case for central governmental paternalism has never been so strong and the necessity for local government to dissuade the invasion of the thinly veiled money drains never so urgent as it is now.
The concept of gambling is of course nothing new – the appeal of earning ‘something for nothing’ has intoxicated countless cultures and civilisations, whilst the regulated gambling market globally is currently worth some $355 billion a year. Yet surely it’s the profound growth of the UK domestic betting market, as of yet uninhibited by Westminster that causes alarm.
The combined growth of store quantity, online traffic and total revenues of the big gambling firms is damning indictment of all the major Parties. Technologies eroding the barriers of rationality, through facilitating impulsive gambling via new App mediums has resulted in an unmitigated social disaster for Britain. Concerted industry advertising still only meekly regulated must end, else the 43% of Briton’s who currently regularly gamble may well swell the already estimated half a million UK addicts. Let’s not allow the ‘flutter’ to snowball.
This article was published in Dermot Neligan’s July/August Youthview column in the bimonthly ‘Chartist’ magazine (http://www.chartist.org.uk/chartist-magazine/).