Modern Government article

Derek was recently interviewed by Modern Government magazine about his opinion on current regulations, the UK Gambling Commission and what effect the clustering of betting shops has on local communities. The following is a transcript of the interview or click here for a PDF Modern Government Interview (1213).

What are your views about current UK gambling regulations and the UK Gambling Commission?

There are three licensing principles in the 2005 Gambling Act. These are keeping crime out of gambling, gambling should be fair and open and problem gambling should be minimised.

If you consider the crime in gambling principle, a person who applies to become a casino dealer could have a motoring or drug conviction and failure to declare this would result in being denied work as a casino dealer. Contrast this with the remote gambling activity of corporate entities where a division has, according to a foreign government authority, been involved in illegal gambling, but the same or another division of the corporate entity is allowed to conduct gambling in the UK without being penalised in any way. This is a hypocritical double standard that penalises the trivial action of an individual but permits unpunished gambling related infractions by corporate entities.

Regarding the fair and open principle, a comparison with credit agreements is valid. No-one would think that all credit agreements are fair and open because the terms are available and the interest rate is disclosed. But the current position of the UK Gambling Commission is that if the rules of the game are available and the house advantage is disclosed then the game is fair and open. By this interpretation no game can be fairer than another game, clearly an absurd position.

What effect does betting shop clustering have on local communities?

Betting shop clustering occurs because bookmakers want to maximise the number of their machines in certain demographic areas. With a limit of four machines per shop, this results in multiple shops, clustered in the highest machine revenue generating areas.

Residents and Councillors feel frustrated by the effects of the 2005 Gambling Act. The Act requires the local authority to “aim to permit” betting shop licenses. This means there is  limited local planning control over betting shops, totally in contrast to the devolution of decisions away from central government. Also, if a Council is successful in objecting to a betting shop license, the bookmaker is likely to take legal action against the Council.

Could more be done to protect those vulnerable to gambling addiction?

Imagine measures of alcohol. The glass of beer containing 6% alcohol, is larger in volume than a glass of wine containing 12% alcohol, which is larger than the shot of spirits containing 40% alcohol. It is certain that there should also be sensible restrictions on gambling amounts and content. The most effective action would be to remove casino table game content from betting shop machines.

At an educational level, the subject of risk should be taught. Compound losses at gambling leads to ruination far more easily than compound interest on savings leads to wealth. There should be a requirement to have information published on typical player outcomes for each form of gambling. This is best achieved by disclosing the historical percentage of player losses relative to player funds used to gamble.

From an advertising perspective there should be far greater control. The deceptive rot set in when the National Lottery was allowed to advertise “It could be you” when the reality is “It is a good as certain that it will not be you”.

Many would argue that betting shops machines with casino table games are just catering to market demand. How do you respond to that?

It is the availability of gambling that creates the demand for gambling. There was never a group of players that asked for roulette games on the internet, on mobile phones, on television and in betting shops. The demand for these forms of roulette was from entities that use technology, market forces and paid legal opinions to justify any activity regardless of the social consequences.

What are the changes you would like to see to UK gambling legislation?

An alternative would be for the current regulations to actually be interpreted more strictly and stringently enforced. A US casino was fined $100,000 for allowing an underage person gamble (under 21). Here in the UK, betting shops have been shown to regularly accept business from gamblers under 18 but there has been no significant action taken so far.

The best alternative would be for the 2005 Gambling Act to be amended. This is probably certain to happen in respect of remote internet and mobile gambling, although we expect the changes will fall far short of preventing the abusive behaviour of those sectors. At the same time additional amendments should include the removal of casino table game content from betting shop machines. End.

We’d like to know your opinion on these subjects so please feel free to comment.