In the last few weeks I have been invited to participate in two landmark events in the life of the gambling industry; the introduction of the new betting shop Code of Conduct introduced by the ABB and the launch of ‘Fair Game: Producing Gambling Research: The Goldsmiths Report’ For the first I was invited by both BBC Breakfast News and Sky News to comment on the value of the Code of Conduct. For the second I was invited along to the official launch of the Report at Goldsmiths University.
In the Goldsmiths Report one of the key issues argued is that the gambling industry, the government, and intermediaries have too great an influence on research into problem gambling. Another point made by the report is that there is lack of transparency regarding the influence of the gambling industry on problem gambling research. If we put aside debating whether or not this controversial statement is true, the fact that some might perceive it to be true is likely to have a negative impact. Two of the things I have learned about our human nature through my practice as a therapist is transparency builds trust. And that uncertainty breeds fear and defensiveness. I am not a scientific researcher or a statistician, the evidence that I offer is from the findings of my practice in the field of gambling addiction since 2001. Often I am told that my opinion is valued by gambling industry and problem gambler alike, and a large part of that trust is because having worked with all of the leading UK problem gambling treatment agencies since 2001, in 2010 I became an independent practitioner. I am trusted to speak the truth as I see it and hear it via my experience. I am seen to have no vested interest in doing otherwise.
So how do I see the value of the betting shop Code of Conduct regarding FOBTs? In my professional opinion I think that it has implications for the recreational gambler, problem gambler and gambling industry. For any FOBT player who is enjoying gambling the proposed measures of limiting time and money spent along with intervention by betting shop staff, if it looks like they may be sliding into trouble, might be a reality check needed to prevent a problem developing. For the FOBT player who already has a gambling problem sadly a symptom of addiction to gambling is that they will not so easily be brought back to rational thought and responsible play. Time and money will now have no value other than to be spent gambling. They need to seek professional intervention via counselling to change their by now beyond their control pattern of play.Seeking help takes courage and often too much time goes by as they slide further into a financial, emotional and psychological trap. Prevention we know is always better than cure so if the new Code of Conduct might prevent problems for some, then that is a win in itself. For the betting shop staff the code of conduct presents a challenging change to their role; one player may welcome their intervention as a caring gesture, another view as us a very unwelcome intrusion into what is a very shameful and frustrating zone in which they feel tightly sealed.
I am often strongly urged to give black and white opinions regarding what I think about the FOBTs and whether or not they cause a problem. But the truth as I experience evidence of it is not black and white. And indeed I may not be any clearer about the numbers the FOBTs cause problems for than is anybody else, but certainly I am clear about the consequences. When people do develop problems with FOBT playing, the consequences, as I consistently see them in my consulting room, clearly are always among the most devastating which I have witnessed during my extensive practice; devastating financially, psychologically and emotionally.
Even so, for me this is not a black and white issue because I have learned that however gambling products may change the psychology of problem gambling remain much the same. The roots of problem gambling grow not only from betting shop, they grow from problems in society such as life crisis, loneliness and isolation, which then grow mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, which then, for some, grow into using gambling as a way to initially lift their mood; until of course too much time and money spent only adds another cataclysmic layer to their problems. Problem gambling transparently is a consequence of not only of a gambling product alone but of a combination of all these factors. That is the truth as I see it and hear it.