The national lottery is advertised as a 'good deed', almost charitable act to partake in. But in essence the National Lottery is gambling. Not only is it advertised gambling brought in to the home but, it is by the theory of probability also not a good bet. Yet the British Gambling Prevalence Survey BGPS 2012 showed figures of 12% growth of National Lottery sales from the previous year.
Historically the Health Survey for England (HES) published facts on the UK's health regarding alcohol consumption, smoking and eating/exercising trends. More recent surveys have however had to include a new danger - gambling. When looking at the figure from HES the National Lottery accounted for the majority of gambling activity with 49% of women and 56% men having bought a lottery ticket. In a similar vein 20% of women and 19% of men gambled with scratch cards. Taking the National Lottery aside Britain still has a growing population of gamblers with 40% of women and 46% of men 'having a flutter' within the past 12 months. With other forms of gambling growing quickly, such as Sports betting and on - line poker, this may well signal why almost 1% of Britons now have a gambling problem.
Class A drug users and addictive drinkers make up 3% of the population and both addictions are heavily covered by the media and nationally help for these addictions are readily available. The NHS believes only 5% of gamblers seek help and only 1% gets treatment for their gambling addiction. The knock on effects of this silent addiction can be financial risks that drive the addiction. Lose of homes and personal effects as a result of becoming in debt. Addicts like other addicts may turn to crime to fund their habit. There also comes the mental impacts, withdrawing from society, becoming depressed and no longer able to fulfil career or relationship commitments. The Gordon Moody Association who treats some of the most serious cases believes an addict will have severely impacted the lives of 15 other people in order to support their gambling. The BGPS adds to these statistics believing 7% or 3.5 million people in the UK are in the 'at risk' category.
Every year £7 billion is spent on gambling in the UK; and now as with other forms of addiction gambling has the same 24/7 accessibility. 2013 records show the ever increasing popularity of betting with a surge of betting shops opening on high streets around the country. The Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT), which include casino games such as Roulette becoming more and more profitable. There are five big firms who make up the bookmaking community and in an ironic parallel it seems these firms have become addicted to the earning power of the estimated 33,000 machines that earn them a gross profit of £1.6 billion a year.
In the past gambling has been separated by gender however a more important and significant divide can be seen geographically. In the UK £13 billion was gambled by the poorest quarter of society; double that of the richest. The 55 poorest boroughs in the UK had streets lined with 2691 betting shops all housing FOBT's. £13 billion was stacked in to the machines by 'punters' with £470 million lost. When comparing this with the same size population in the same 12 month period only in the 115 richest areas of the UK, the figures halved. Shopping centres boasted 258 bookmakers where £6.5 billion was stacked and £231 million lost. Going under the microscope further the study showed Liverpool to be the most deprived are of the country and here they spent £118m across 570 machines leading to £636 million in bets with bookmakers taking a cut of £23 million. In stark comparison when you look at Hants in Hampshire, voted the most desirable place to live in the UK, and also the least deprived it has just 7 betting shops with an estimated 13 machines.
In this year's 2014 Budget the Chancellor George Osborne served up some tax reforms which those treating addicts would have found hard to understand. There was an introduction of a 25% tax on gaming machines that had a payout of £5 and over. Then there was a move to cut Bingo tax from 25% to 10%. Osborne was quoted saying "Bingo halls play an important role in our local communities and the Government is committed to supporting bingo halls" as the policy objective. The Chancellor wants to encourage 'green living' and support local communities but in the short sighted squeeze of the pound, the £50 million pound that the Government earn a year from FOBT alone, has ignored the effects of addiction on the communities, such as crime, and these are already the poorest communities in the country.
On-line gambling be it on tablet mobile or PC along with the National Lottery scratch cards and syndicate betting have all brought gambling out of the shadows. Betting was once shut away behind the closed doors of what were once the exclusive world of the casinos and the seedy world of the bookies. Today people are now a lot more keyed in to the principles of gambling with betting syndicates, be it on a lotto or sports game now have a much higher take up rate as people begin to understand phases like 'odds on' and 'accumulators'.
On British television there is an abundance of advertising for different forms of gambling. From early morning right up to late at night you are delivered opportunity after opportunity to part with whatever money you have. There are all the different lottery options from the Post Code Lottery to The Health Lottery, Euro Millions and the longest serving National Lottery. All through the day there are various different bingo sites, often offering 'free' plays in order to get people signed up. In the evening you start to get the on line casinos advertising poker, roulette and black jack. Other than the intrusive nature of this advertising it is striking that there is no filter for who sees these adverts as they are played throughout the day, the lottery also has just 16 years of age as it lower age limit. There is also no need for anyone to even leave the comfort of their armchair to take part in any of these games; the lottery itself now available online.
There is a legal growth of FOBT that can take £18,000 from a player in one hour and they wouldn't even have to speak to anyone. There is a generation growing up with betting terminology being a normal part of their language; a generation who are probably accustomed to what the various forms of gambling are. They have potentially contributed to placing a bet, picked a horse or the winning team for a family member or friend. Gambling is becoming the 'norm', as habitual as drinking and smoking. No need to hide it as gambling seems now just a normal part of everyday life. But what of the people who lose their house, their job and live in an ever increasing circle of debt. What about the people whose relations fall apart, the people who become suicidal; who take their lives.
There are real dangers in the Government gambling with what vice should be supported and which shouldn't. There is an easy contradiction to be seen between a Government that clearly profits from the expanding gaming industry and the one that set up MA the Money Advice service. Nowhere on that website does it advise you to spend your last 'fiver' on a scratch card. Are the communities that are being helped through the support of their Bingo halls being caused more harm by the lure of addiction that creeps through the doors? I can't help but feel that the addiction to gambling is a ticking time bomb in the same way that smoking was and that drinking then followed. But rather than make early inroads and get ahead of the game the help that is needed is being side lined for the big win - profit, taxable profit.