John Whittingdale MP gave an in-person address at the Betting & Gaming Council’s (BGC) AGM on Thursday 20 January – and one of his key points illustrated the opposition gambling will always face in government.
Gambling Insider was in attendance as Whittingdale discussed the contrasting approaches to the gambling industry that have always created a great divide within the UK market, something he described as an “unbridgeable divide.”
This divide is best characterised by a politician describing all gambling as a “cancer in society.”
Whittingdale said: “There are those, not least in Parliament, who think gambling is inherently dangerous. A minister in the House of Lords recently described gambling as a cancer in society – not gambling addiction, but gambling.
“Some lobbyists told me there are two types of gambler: gamblers who are addicts and gamblers who are potential addicts.
“That is a divide that is probably unbridgeable. In most issues, there is a reasonably clear difference between parties – but this is not the case in gambling.”
On the topic of the media, Whittingdale further acknowledged the opposition gambling traditionally faces from mainstream national press.
He did, however, reference BGC Chair Brigid Simmonds’ note that “one problem gambler is one too many.”
Whittingdale explained: “In actual fact, the incidence of problem gambling has been falling. So the slightly hysterical comments made in the media would give the impression that this is a scourge that’s increasing by the month.
“But it was Brigid who said one problem gambler is one too many. So it doesn’t matter if incidence is going up or down, as long as there are people who need help.”
Whittingdale later used the example of drones hovering outside horserace tracks, filming races for black market operators – suggesting the threat of the black market is more than just a red herring, as critics have in the past suggested.
On the issue of sponsorship, the MP admitted the Premier League, which is “awash with money,” wouldn’t necessarily need gambling sponsorship – but pointed out that lower leagues benefit incredibly and may well not survive without it.
He later also conceded there is a case for more to be done in reducing the scale of VIP programs within the industry, while welcoming the idea of a gambling ombudsman.
On that topic, though, he warned that it is “desirable but not a panacea,” and that gamblers who have lost can’t just be given their money back because they didn't win. In short, bettors know the risks involved when they gamble.
Whittingdale’s final point of note was a slight criticism of the Gambling Commission for its role in the Football Index saga. Well, perhaps not the Commission itself but the laws that did not require it to “understand the economic viability” of a gambling product. Surely, if anything should change during the upcoming Gambling Review, it is precisely that.