Saturday 7 January 2023

Manufactured anti-gambling outrage

Britain's anti-gambling coalition is outraged again, according to its friends at the Guardian... 

The betting industry has threatened to redirect a quarter of the funds expected to go to a charity tackling harms caused by gambling, the Guardian understands.

The four largest members of the Betting and Gaming Council have in the past pledged to use GambleAware as the main commissioner of any money it gave to tackle problems caused by its activities.

But sources at GambleAware said the charity was informed in recent weeks by BGC that in future, 25% of funds would be kept back to distribute directly to projects chosen by Bet365, Flutter Entertainment, GVC Holdings and William Hill.

Like everything else these days, anti-gambling campaigners say this is another reason why there should be a statutory levy on the industry to provide a slush fund for anti-gambling activists and academics treatment services for problem gamblers.

The former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: "The fact that the BGC are taking a unilateral decision to redirect 25% of future funds away from GambleAware to fund its own chosen causes could not set out more clearly why a statutory levy to fund research, education and treatment is absolutely essential."

“This racket of the gambling industry deciding when, how much and now where money is spent to deal with the harm it causes simply has to end.”

'Racket' isn't really the right word for companies choosing which charities to support, is it? A racket involves using intimidation to get people to give you money. Like the campaign for a statutory levy, for example. 

In any case, as the article explains, the industry promised to give GambleAware £100 million by March 2024 and it is actually going to give it £110 million. They never said they would continue spaffing money on it forever. They also say that GambleAware "refuses to publicly provide transparency" about how its funds are spent, although the Guardian fails to pursue that potentially interesting line of enquiry.

Why the sudden urge to defend GambleAware? Three years ago, we had a nearly identical story in the Guardian when the industry made the decision to give £100 million to GambleAware.

Betting firms’ surprise decision to redirect £100m of funds for tackling problem gambling proves the industry has too much influence on how the money is spent, politicians and leading addiction experts have warned.

... The companies appeared to have agreed to route the money via Action against Gambling Harms (AGH), a charity founded by the Conservative peer Lord Chadlington to identify suitable recipients and hand out grants.

But in an unexpected change of heart, industry trade body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) revealed this month that all of the cash will go to the GambleAware charity instead.

You wouldn't normally expect the Guardian to take the side of a Tory peer, but needs must when your only objective is bashing the gambling industry.  
As usual, the one-club golfers of the anti-gambling coalition took this as evidence that a statutory levy was required...

In an open letter to the culture minister, Oliver Dowden, and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, experts will say this week that the decision underlines why a statutory levy is needed.

Last year, the NHS severed links with GambleAware because its management were too righteous to touch its dirty money. As I said at the time, it was an outrageous decision that has cost taxpayers millions of pounds. But since the industry can no longer fund NHS treatment for gambling problems via GambleAware, you can see why they might want to fund treatment directly (if, indeed, that is what they are planning to do).
There are also signs that GambleAware has been losing the plot recently. Last year it commissioned a report from YouGov which claimed that the problem gambling rate was many times higher than any survey in Britain has ever found. 
I don't particularly care whether there is a statutory levy or not. The government already makes £3.3 billion a year in gambling revenue which is enough to give red carpet treatment to every problem gambler who wants help many times over. £100 million is chicken feed by comparison. 

But I do get tired of the industry being damned if they do and damned if they don't. The Guardian (and the Times) twists every gambling story to make it look like the industry is up to no good. When they reported the ridiculous YouGov story, the Guardian headline was 'Gambling addiction could be nine times higher than industry claims', as if it was the industry that produced problem gambling estimates.

There is a bizarre sentence in today's article...

GambleAware has been criticised for being too close to the industry, for example by focusing in [sic] education programmes on the idea of “problem gambling,” which some say is a key narrative pushed by industry to deflect from the addictive nature of products they promote.
The idea of "problem gambling"? Why the scare quotes? Why call it an idea? Why a narrative? Problem gambling is a recognised psychological disorder. It is, supposedly, the whole reason why the Guardian gets so worked up about this issue.

Or could it be - just possibly - that the Guardian and the campaigners who feed it stories simply disapprove of gambling in general? Surely not!

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