Listening to Good Morning Scotland this morning reminded me how rotten the gambling industry is and how cynical their involvement in sport is. An SNP MP, Ronnie Cowan, referred to the rise in gambling addictions and the related social problems across the UK and Scotland as another ‘pandemic’, and he is not wrong.
Two other guests who spoke with passion and informed concern made the case for banning gambling sponsorship of football jerseys or teams and sought to remind us that there is nothing normal or harmless about betting and football but that it is an unhealthy and unnatural phenomenon which cannot be normalised any longer (From 2h 36 mins and 15 secs into the show). I agree wholeheartedly with their arguments.
Andy Smith is the chairman of the Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA) and he spoke about an extensive and important survey they commissioned amongst football supporters in association with GambleAware to elicit the views of ordinary fans about the influence of gambling in the game. The results were made public on the 4th of January and are stark but have not been given anywhere near enough coverage.
More than three quarters (78%) of fans think there is too much gambling sponsorship in Scottish football, whilst 95% felt their club were not doing enough to make fans aware of the risks of gambling.
Over half (52%) of respondents reported increased feelings of concern regarding the amount of gambling advertising and sponsorship in Scottish football throughout the last season, indicating a need to ensure that fans are adequately informed about both gambling harms, and support services available.
Andy highlighted the fact of one suicide a week in Scotland is directly related to gambling addiction and the existence of reports suggesting 55,000 children are already addicted to gambling as evidence enough to treat this problem as an urgent issue, as another ‘pandemic’ as Ronnie Cowan MP had already suggested earlier.
Gambling Industry Are Interested in Massive Profits Not Sport
The gambling industry is not interested in football or sport in general for the good of the game but as a recruiting ground for new adherents to practice worth billions in profits and with the potential to ruin many lives. Andy emphasised what is being sought is a ban on sponsorship of teams and clubs, not a ban on gambling. Many people gamble without becoming addicted and a ban on gambling would only drive it underground but it should not be so promoted, normalised and endorsed by appearance on football shirts, and on advertising boards surrounding pitches. It is a ban on gambling advertising which is needed, not a ban on gambling.
The UK government is currently conducting a review of the gambling industry and many organisations and individuals concerned about the corrosive effects of gambling in sport hope that review will go further than simply banning names of firms from shirts but given the billions of revenue at stake the Gambling industry is aggressively fighting its corner and barefacedly paying elected politicians to lobby on its behalf and see off any regulations which may stifle their abilities to generate massive profits from punters hooked on the practice and chasing the forlorn dream of beating the bookie. The industry thinks nothing of £50,000 investments in pliable Tory MPs pockets to defend the industry from pesky do-gooders who might insist the industry cleans up its act and introduces stricter online checks and limits to prevent hundreds of thousands losing more than they can afford.
The contribution from Paul Pettigrew on this morning’s show was particularly powerful. Paul was a gambling addict by the age of 18 and didn’t think he would see his 21st birthday such was the depression brought on by his betting curse. Late last year he bravely told his story in a special TV show designed to warn others of the serious pitfalls gambling can easily lead you into. Paul was one of the lucky ones who found the strength to turn things around in his life and beat his addiction. He established GAMTALK Don’t Gamble With your Future to specifically target young people and help warn that gambling is not harmless fun. For Paul prevention is much better than cure and early intervention and education is key to beating the gambling pandemic alongside the bans on football club sponsorships and parading gambling firm names on shirts.
Gambling Addiction is Real, Widespread and Destructive
The horrors related to gambling addiction are real and tragic leading to multiple debts, loss of jobs and homes, relationship breakdowns and serious mental health problems and even to suicide with reports suggesting up to one in ten suicides across the UK are directly linked to gambling addiction.
I can testify from personal experience that gambling can take hold of your life and quickly cost you thousands of pounds and lead to depression. I was a late starter having never placed a bet in my life until 2006 and over forty years of age. However, I soon fell prey to the addictive lure of gambling and particularly the online ease of access to worldwide football markets that promised limitless earning potential for the canny and wise pundit.
I believe gambling addiction relies on an element of arrogance and self-belief that you know better than the bookie and can outsmart them. Over several costly years, I learned how silly that philosophy is and racked up debts which still haunt me to this day. If my wife Gail had not cottoned on to my problem when she did things may have spiralled even more out of control but fortunately, she checked bank accounts and discovered my addiction. I’m still paying off debts accrued during that period to close family and friends. Always remember the next poor bookmaker/gambling outlet you meet will be the first poor bookmaker/gambling outlet you will ever meet.
Gambling Problems Worse During Covid19 Pandemic
Research this time last year estimated that Scotland had 45,000 problem gamblers and 162,000 at-risk gamblers but due to the pressures of the Covid19 pandemic and the associated restrictions keeping people at home many believe the problems have rocketed with one MP describing the situation as “absolutely disastrous” for problem gamblers. Regardless of the shortage of funds for football clubs, they have a responsibility to their fans and the sport as a whole to stand up to the perfidious influence of gambling and reject sponsorship of jerseys or stadium advertising which allows the industry to catch more fans in their tangled web.
The UK government should stand up to the industry and treat gambling like tobacco and alcohol and ban their sponsorship of sport. None of those industries belongs at the heart of sport. I wish I could say I was confident the Tories would do the right thing and remove gambling’s tentacles from football grounds and sport in general, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.