If you look at my Linked In page you will see that for a couple of years I was the national commissioner of services, education and research into problem gambling in the UK. Sounds grand doesn’t it? It was horrible. Back then, and still true today, government puts no money into any of these areas which means the total responsibility to fund gambling treatment is with the industry itself. By comparison it is like expecting Benson and Hedges to decide whether there should be treatment for lung cancer. I had to work with casino operators and bookie shop chains to prise a few bob out of them, when every fibre of their being denied they held any responsibility for the problem, couldn’t afford it, there was no need because there were only two problem gamblers anyway, and a range of other pathetic excuses for not stepping up to the plate. They treat their employees appallingly too; bookie shop staff are often zero hours, minimum wage, can’t even easily have toilet breaks. And if you google ‘services for problem gamblers’ you will start getting junk email from online betting firms offering you free bets. Treatment remains patchy and education non-existent. It was a scandal then and remains one today.
Why do I mention this? Because gambling causes an immense amount of harm to homeless, poor and disadvantaged people. Recently several individuals have come to our attention – reliable client volunteers. We all know that drugs and drinking are common, but gambling is the hidden harm. It’s often denied far more by our clients than drink or drugs. We often find out too late that people have lost a tenancy because their money all went on a dead cert nag or in a FOBT (automated roulette machines in bookies). When we do, we link people up to those treatment services available, but again, denial is a big problem.
The irony is of course that Hope is part funded by the Big Lottery and the People’s Postcode Lottery, money raised from gambling, but some of the very few sources of large scale funding for organisations in our sector – they do give a fairer share of their profits. And lottery related problem gambling is rare, even though it can be argued it is money poor people can often ill afford to spend. But there is a real difference between this sector and the rest: the bulk of the gambling industry serves no constructive purpose, does great harm to poor people, does almost nothing to mitigate the harm they do, and is let off the hook by all governments.