In early April (2016), new Gambling Commission rules went into effect that is supposed to help prevent gambling addicts from continuing their self-destructive behaviour. As with most government rules, the new self-exclusion rules have been put in place by the Commission in the hope that gambling addicts will obey them and change their ways. But according to the gambling addicts themselves, nothing will change. They say the rules are just as useless as the ones they are designed to replace.
At the heart of the changes are the fixed odds betting terminals you can find in most betting shops around the country. The way these terminals work makes them a big problem for people with compulsive gambling issues. They are so problematic that gambling addiction experts often refer to them as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling. Gamblers can sit behind these machines and literally lose thousands of pounds every few minutes.
Prior to the Commission’s new rules, one of the only ways a gambling addict could combat his/her behaviour in relation to betting shops was to fill out a form that excluded him or her from entering a specific shop. In other words, the problem gambler could, by filling out a paper form, essentially ask a betting shop owner to ban him/her from the premises. The system did not work for a whole host of reasons.
So what did the Gambling Commission do? They changed the rule to allow problem gamblers to fill out one form that would exclude them from every betting shop in the region.
The Commission says their move now makes self-exclusion easier and more effective. Gambling addicts and treatment providers want to know how. What is it about the single paper form that will be any more effective than the old system?
According to the experts, the paper-based self-exclusion system is wrought with problems. For example, employees of betting shops would have to memorise the names and faces of every excluded problem gambler in order for the self-exclusion to be effective. That is neither realistic nor possible.
Second, self-exclusion relies solely on the ability of the gambling addict to not try and circumvent the system once a paper form has been filed. By the very definition of addiction, gambling addicts lack the ability to control their compulsions. Expecting them to stay away from betting shops simply because they submitted a paper form is absolutely ludicrous, at best.
The Gambling Commission’s original idea of self-exclusion has proven to be a miserable failure. Expect to look back on these new rules a couple of years from now and see the same result. No self-exclusion model will work if it is relied upon as the sole means of preventing problem gamblers from continuing their habits.
Knowing that the programme will not work, the next question is one of where we go from here. The answer is twofold. First and foremost, we have to do more to develop systems that will aggressively identify gambling addicts and get them into treatment. Those treatments must be concentrated treatments provided by specialists who know what it is they are dealing with. Referring a gambling addict to a GP or a general counsellor is not going to get it done.
The second part of the answer, and the more uncomfortable one, is the need to start putting things in place to prevent gambling addiction in the first place. The same goes for addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, and so on. The reality we must embrace is that addiction is not solely a medical issue. There may be medical components involved, but it cannot be denied that there are also choices involved.
It used to be that gambling was considered a vice that people stayed away from unless they were willing to practice it in dark alleys or the back rooms of pubs. There was a day when so many betting shops did not exist in our fair country; a day when bookmakers did not offer bets on everything from when the next royal baby would be born to the number of corners in the Chelsea and Man City match.
The result of turning gambling into big business has been a shift in attitudes to the extent that people no longer view gambling as a potentially dangerous activity. It is just something that’s done for leisure purposes, the same way someone would play golf or put the family in the car for a drive in the country.
Self-exclusion is not going to help, whether the gambling addict has to fill out one form or a dozen. As for gambling addiction treatment, it only helps as a reactionary measure once a gambling problem has been identified. If we are ever going to truly solve the problem before us, we have to begin addressing problem gambling as something that can be prevented before it ever starts. Otherwise, we will keep doing what we are already doing – to no avail.
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