By Warwick Bartlett
On Monday 5 November 2012 the BBC’s investigative programme Panorama broadcast a show entitled Gambling Nation. It brought together a number of issues on problem gambling, betting shop violence, and FOBT (B2) machines.
BBC’s Panorama did nothing more than make a spurious case for more funding to be spent on gambling addiction treatment. The usual suspects were present – Jim Orford from Birmingham University and Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University.
The next ‘victim’ was a rather overweight, unemployed, smoker who is on medication for bipolar disorder. The incidence of bipolar disorder in the UK is about three quarters of one percent, coincidentally about the same rate of problem gambling in the UK according to the Gambling Commission’s Prevalence Survey. This puts into context the level of problem gambling.
We saw a foreign man punching a machine because he had lost his money. I watched the award winning TV programme Homeland the other night and the head of the CIA went to a vending machine put in his dollar and nothing came out. He did not say, “Oh dear this machine is not working properly”. He thumped and kicked it. According to the films I watch from Hollywood this seems to happen a lot. You can go to jail for having a bet but it seems to be okay to kick a vending machine to pieces.
The foreign gentleman in the betting shop who had lost his money did a lot of shouting and he had six friends in support. The poor lady cashier according to our beloved Gambling Commission was supposed to have walked out from behind the safety of the counter onto the shop floor and offered him a leaflet directing him to Gamcare.
People from different countries have a different way of expressing themselves. In Spain they march and carry signs about unemployment. In Germany they do not protest at all because they have everyone else’s money. In Italy they drink wine and make love and in Egypt they stand in a square for eight weeks. The Brits, supported by the media, moan until the problem has gone away. But in Greece they set fire to the Parliament!
FOBTs are attractive to the new wave of immigrants that come into our country. They are simple and easy to understand and the schools that they went to did not teach distances in furlongs. When they lose they shout and bash the machine. The Brits on the other hand sulk, go home, and kick the cat.
Next up Professors Orford and Griffiths. Guess what? They have the solution and they need funding.
Professor Orford claimed that problem gamblers lost £150 million. That came as a surprise because on the 24 August 2012 on the Gambling Watch UK blog he claimed that £586 million was lost by problem gamblers. On the same blog he asks how the voluntary contributions of £5 million made by the industry were agreed upon. I can answer that question.
Professor Orford’s methodology is to take a percentage from a dreamt up figure and ask for it regardless of what is really required. His current figure (as at 31 October 2012) is £25 million, five times more than what is funded at present. He makes no case of how the money is to be spent.
To make the figure good he draws attention to the last British Prevalence Study which shows, according to him, a 50% increase in problem gambling. Except that it does not. The increase in the survey came about because after the launch of RIGT and to comply with Gambling Commission policy the industry had to actively advertise for problem gamblers. People came forward. The number did not rise they were already there.
Howard Shaffer at the Harvard Medical School says that 30 years ago the prevalence of gambling addiction in the USA was 0.7%, ironically about the same as the UK. However after 30 years of unparalleled expansion of gambling services in the US the level of addiction has now fallen to 0.6%.
Gambling is a form of adult play. While the importance of play has been long recognized for the healthy development of children, play also is important for adults. For example, whereas children play card, board, and video games, adults play blackjack, bingo, and video slot machines. In addition to providing fun and excitement, some forms of gambling can enhance coping strategies by building skills and competencies such as memory enhancement, problem solving through game tactics, mathematical proficiency, concentration, and hand-to-eye physical coordination.
The mental health literature demonstrates that physical activity such as cycling, jogging, yoga, fencing, or weight lifting can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Some individuals derive similar compensations from certain forms of gambling. Like exercise, certain gambling activities might be associated with the ability to manage stress, which can in turn affect a person’s vulnerability to disease.
I recall Peter Drucker the famed management guru saying that the mid-morning break was essential for factory workers. Sitting down with their mates and writing out their bets together was an important part of their social activity that took them away from the mundane of work.
The biggest threat to the gambling industry is that politicians and the media only focus on the negative impact of gambling and will not countenance that gambling does produce real public health benefits. Only when the process of denial is complete will politicians and academics be able to sit down with the industry and have a rational debate on how best to deal with those that have a gambling problem.
There is nothing more galling in this world than those who consider themselves to be more intelligent than others to be condescending toward their fellow citizen, treat us like idiots, and tell us how to run and manage our own lives.