Why Should Gambling Be Made Easier?Posted: 11/10/2013
I’m no fan of imprudent behaviour, even when it has nothing to do with me. We’ve all seen examples of how drugs, smoking, alcohol or gambling can ruin lives. All four of these have the potential to be addictive, expensive and socially destructive.
Our attitudes towards these have always been inconsistent: alcohol is a mind-altering substance and yet even the softest of other such drugs are deemed to be evil; smoking tobacco is socially acceptable despite it being about as healthy as inhaling fumes from a burning carpet; and some countries cheerfully license supercasinos in which it is theoretically possible to lose a lifetime’s worth of assets within hours. These inconsistencies can largely be explained by our cultural histories, not by any rational approach as to what causes the greatest harm to individuals and their environment.
Despite my personal reservations, I favour a pragmatic approach. People will take all kind of drugs and gamble no matter what laws apply, and there is no better way to discourage this than to allow people to learn the dangers for themselves. If soft drugs were legalised, many would try them for certain. But there would be no drug dealers to push the harder ones, and the drug supply would be a lot cleaner and thus safer. Addiction rates would actually fall.
So yes, I feel that as drugs should be legal and available under safe conditions, gambling should be too. The key is to strike a balance between protecting the considerable number of people who turn to gambling because of some other personal issue, and not imposing paternalistic restrictions on a good proportion of occasional, recreational gamblers.
In Britain, I think we haven’t got that ‘right balance’. Like a cancer, betting shops have spread across our high streets (councils have no powers to stop them), sucking in a legion of desperate people who have turned to chance to solve horrific financial black holes. Gaming machines have colonised these shops, with their peculiar ability to stack the odds heavily against the user whilst creating the illusion that the user’s skill has a real impact on their chances. There’s a reason why such machines generate half of UK bookmakers’ profits. All the while, there’s no escape from gambling advertising in the print and broadcast media that is wholly inappropriate, particularly when seen by children.
That’s why I’m at a loss as to why this Government- with little opposition, I might add- is relaxing further casino and betting shop licensing laws. In particular, gaming machines will now be able to accept greatly increased stakes, and there can be more of them per shop. It’s a clear step in the wrong direction: a casual gambler does not bet £250 per 20 seconds on such machines.
Do we want people to be able to lose so much money so quickly?