A New World

by | Apr 7, 2020

I am blessed to be safe and well, self-isolating due to being in the high-risk group the NHS has defined.

 

My colleagues, friends and family are safe and well. I am in my flat in London, missing the rural shires that I originate from and the community I am so comfortable with.

 

I have been working, supporting my team, continuing to do what we can for people who experience varying degrees of mental health issues.

 

I am also working hard on the serious issue of people affected by disordered gambling. I had the chance, once before, to make a difference, and I think I did, to some degree. But we know so much more now. There is increased risk of suicide, loss of family, income and still no parity of esteem.

 

As somebody who has battled mental health issues my whole life, yet to some have been successful, whatever that means, with a career delivering mental health and addiction services, we still have a hidden societal issue. 

 

How can this be so, ignoring a significant and important social problem, generated by the massive state-supported expansion in commercial gambling, and an exploitative and extractive gambling industry. 

 

Quite frankly, anybody affected by gambling disorder does not get the same treatment and support services as people with a mental illness or drug and alcohol problem.

 

If had committed a crime due to gambling disorder, I get no mercy, as it is still so ill-recognised. This is unjust.  

 

In mental health services, post the Reed report, I would have been assessed, supported and mitigation for any offence would have been considered in my sentence. Currently, no such thought is given for disordered gamblers.

 

The cartels of gambling operators who have exploited the mental ill-health of disordered gamblers for profits, have, at most received a fine through a regulatory settlement – insignificant in relation to the size of industry profit, and none have lost operating licences or faced criminal prosecution. 

 

The individual takes the full brunt of the criminal justice system. Yet they pose little danger to society, they have acknowledged their wrongdoing. Gambling operators know what is happening. To say they don’t know what addictive products they sell, or the vulnerabilities of their customers is an illusion.

 

I have often questioned if the perpetual public debate about gambling industry investment in research, education and treatment is a smokescreen, as it takes up people’s time and thoughts, while products are engineered and data is used to target disordered gamblers, as they are the most profitable customers. 

 

We see virtual online sport events target new markets of gamblers.  We saw the virtual grand national – great that the NHS benefits, does it really? Or will society have to pick of the costs of new forms of gambling-harm? 

 

We have seen painful lessons learnt from the tobacco industry, and the opioid crisis, even a new film, called Dark Waters demonstrates corporate greed, and Teflon’s abuse of people whilst making profits.

 

We have heard a public health approach mentioned, social responsibility, individual responsibility all used and all bastardised language – meaning the person should manage themselves. But like tobacco, gambling products are addictive.

 

Business is business, but products do kill. We see the new casino and online association’s 10-point plan – they should be doing anyway as part of the conditions of having a licence to operate in the UK.  

 

Let’s not be fooled by big corporations. I also don’t want to judge business, as I am not anti-gambling, coming from a home where my own father bets every day and takes great pleasure from it (although he says managers at the bookies are treated badly and there is less of a social community now). 

But stronger measures need to be in place.

 

Be warned – act before you are viewed like the tobacco industry or Teflon – you can, and we can act now. Accept you know who is vulnerable and which products are dangerous, and stop it now

 

The gambling industry is a profit-making machine, who push the legal limits, if allowed by weak government regulation. The state has focused on a supposed economic contribution from the gambling industry, but the tax revenue comes from extracting money from vulnerable people. 

 

The fault lies with lack of true regulation and a fit for purpose Gambling Act.

 

Mature systems, regulations and standards should be embedded. I have experienced enough PR and spin, to see through it. Individuals who have this disorder should not be the ones that shoulder all the stigma, consequences and harm.

 

Government and industry, act now, to make gambling safe – otherwise I fear blood is on everybody’s hands. 

 

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