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the Friend INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS VOL 169 NO 48 3 Thought for the Week: Gambling: time for real change Helena Chambers 4-5 News 6 Cathedrals, tents and boardrooms Roger Iredale 7 Still waiting for a law Christine Downes-Grainger 8-9 Letters the Fox report: 10-11 The spoils of addiction Howard Reed 12 The gambler’s tale Kevin Finnerty 13 Quakerism versus chaos Bob Johnson 14 Love is God Barbara Harris 15 Poem: Vocable (for John) Philip Gross 16 q-eye: a wry look at the Quaker world 17 Friends & Meetings
In this weeks issue the Fox Report, compiled and edited by Judy Kirby, investigates the subject of problem gambling. See pages 10-12
Cover image: A roll of the dice. Photo: @alviseni / flickr CC See pages 10-12
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the Friend, 2 December 2011 Thought for the Week
Gambling: time for real change
This timely Fox report addresses many of the reasons that gambling has been such a significant part of Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs (QAAD) work. At its heart is the human experience of the problem gambler and those close to them – and their losses in the widest sense.
Some faith-based groups (including QAAD) tried to give full weight to these experiences on 22 November by giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee looking at the effects of the Gambling Act. Since the 2005 Gambling Act was passed, the number of problem gamblers has risen by between 100,000 and 150,000. The significance of the rise has been down-played. We were asked whether the measures we were suggesting weren’t a sledge-hammer to crack a nut.
One of the ‘nuts’ comes in the form of B2 machines, or Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). Only about six percent of gamblers use them, but they are reported as problematic by a disproportionate number of those seeking help (twenty-two percent of calls to Gamcare). They are also very lucrative to the industry. Betting shops now gain about as much revenue from machines as they do from over-the-counter betting. The 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey shows that the ‘spend’ on B2s attributable to problem gamblers was between twenty and thirty percent. Problem gamblers typically gamble in many ways. However, there is now enough evidence to indicate that there is a problem with B2s, and that more regulatory powers are advisable – particularly as it seems that these machines are densest in poorer areas. Harriet Harman is calling attention to the issue in her constituency.
The faith groups proposed that local authorities be given the power to refuse gambling licences on the grounds of clustering or density, in a similar way as they are able to with alcohol. However, the tenor of the session was sceptical. We did not come away optimistic.
Research, education and treatment for problem gambling is funded by voluntary donations from the industry – but they obviously need an independent public health approach. Recently, tripartite arrangements to ensure that there was a separation between the industry body that raises the funds, Gambling
Research, Education and Treatment (GREaT), and the body that distributes them, the Responsible Gambling Fund (RGF), broke down. Julia Neuberger, who has chaired the national strategy board that decided the priorities for the RGF, has written: ‘Unfortunately, in practice some of the key players never really recognised the importance, for wider public credibility, of the demonstrable objectivity and the avoidance of conflicts of interest that underlay the separation of functions.’
From the industry perspective, the chair of GREaT wrote: ‘Personally, I have no fear of a statutory levy but I have to confess that the thought of a load of bureaucrats wasting industry money fills me with horror. The current voluntary structure gives us a very real say in how the money is spent and it also gives us credibility as a socially responsible industry in the eyes of politicians and regulators.’
The position at present is that the industry is disbursing the funds and new formal arrangements have yet to emerge. The faith groups proposed that the government activate its powers to levy the industry and put in place robust structures to ensure independence. There are other relevant bodies involved in discussions: the Gambling Commission (which regulates gambling and has a responsibility to advise government) and the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB), the body Julia Neuberger chaired. Both of these can provide some public interest accountability. It is not yet clear what will happen, but we support the RGSB view that arrangements need to: ‘Make sure that decisions about the use of funds and, in particular, choices of priority between research, education and treatment are made impartially and not dominated by any of the service providers or by the gambling industry.’ We fear a further increase in problem gambling. There seems to be a feeling of reluctance to regulate more tightly. We hope we are wrong on both counts. It is an uphill struggle, but faith groups continue to push for health rather than economics to be dominant in the approach to problem gambling.
the Friend, 2 December 2011