Yesterday, it was widely reported that the international gambling operator, Paddy Power, was found, by the UK Gambling Commission, to have "encouraged a problem gambler (called 'Customer A') to keep betting until he lost five jobs, his home and access to his children". Many, who have an interest in the gambling addiction field, would not be surprised by this. What is surprising about this story is the fact that staff actually raised concerns about the problem gambler's situation, as he was working 5 jobs, but had "no money". For some readers, this may seem like basic common decency - like the bartender telling you when you've had enough. However, some weeks later, when the betting shop manager informed a more senior member of staff that the problem gambler in question would be visiting the shop less frequently, they were advised: “steps should be taken to try to increase Customer A’s visits and time spent in the gambling premises”.
This type of sharp practice is "grossly at odds with the licensing objective of preventing vulnerable people from being exploited by gambling", according to the UK Gambling Commission. Unfortunately, in my time counselling problem gamblers, I have been told, time and time again, that this type of practice occurs across the board with all gambling operators in Ireland. Enticements are offered to gamblers who are clearly in active addiction - which is not strange, considering that in most jurisdictions, at least 35% of gambling industry profits are made from problem gamblers (data for Ireland is not currently available).
In fact, a gambler is far more likely to be barred from a gambling establishment if they are winning regularly than if they are losing every penny they have - potentially leaving themselves and their families destitute.
Customer A was only advised to seek help for gambling addiction in August 2014, when a Paddy Power staff member met him on the street and learned that he had lost all of his jobs, was homeless and had lost access to his children.
The "responsible gambling" page of Paddy Power's website states: "We believe in fair play – not just for customers enjoying a bet, but in everything we do – and our practices are among the most responsible in the industry. We know that some people have problems with gambling, and we recognise that they need education, treatment, and support. All of our customer service agents are certified by GamCare and undergo regular GamCare training to ensure they offer the most professional service possible to those who might be suffering from a problem with gambling."
I do not want it to seem like I am on a crusade against Paddy Power. This type of immoral, unethical practice exists across the gambling industry. A brief look at the William Hill Staff Handbook (below), shows the typical attitude.
Regulation of the gambling industry is the only approach with any hope of having an impact on these utterly parasitic and predatory practices. Gambling operators consistently prey on vulnerable addicts, with little or no concern for their welfare or that of their children and other dependents.
I urge the new government to enact the Gambling Control Bill as soon as humanly possible.
An excellent article in yesterday's Guardian newspaper (06.01.16) claims that the Chair of the UK's Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) - a charity funded by the gambling industry - lobbied on behalf of that industry.
Unlike Ireland, the UK has numerous other organisations which are completely independent of any potential influence or conflict of interest from the industry.
Neil Goulden, the Chair of RGT since 2011, also chairs the gambling industry lobbying arm, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), since 2012. He had previously been on the board at Ladbrokes and was chairman of bookmaker and bingo group Gala Coral until 2014.
The Guardian claims that a 2013 gambling industry strategy paper, written by Goulden and Ladbroke's CEO, Richard Flynn, identified “a large degree of righteous paternalism” which would see the public mood “swinging away from smoking, heavy drinking, gambling, non-contributors and tax avoiders”. The paper went on to call for research “which helps to position gambling as an economically valuable and socially responsible leisure pursuit” (like heavy drinking, smoking and tax avoidance, presumably). It is worth noting that the Irish Department of Justice wrote in their 2010 document, 'Options for Regulating Gambling' - "It can be acknowledged from the start, that for some, the pairing of the words "responsible" and "gambling" is incongruous".
It could be argued that giving the gambling industry responsibility for encouraging responsible gambling (i.e., reducing the industry's profits) is more than a tad incongruous too. This is exactly what we have done in Ireland with the forming of the Irish Responsible Gambling Board's 'Gamble Aware'. While the Gamble Aware website provides some excellent information and support services, the silence from the organisation in terms of raising awareness around gambling addiction (compulsive gambling/problem gambling/pathological gambling) - and the industry's part in perpetuating those issues - is truly deafening. Take Gamble Aware's Twitter account, for example - set up in November 2011 and (4 tweets later) nothing since February 2012.
Just like the alcohol industry in Ireland, the gambling industry encourages you to 'enjoy gambling responsibly' and directs you to the Gamble Aware website (the alcohol equivalent being Drink Aware). Alcohol addiction has an independent organisation with 'teeth' - Alcohol Action Ireland - ready to take on the vested interests, lobby government and actively raise awareness. To date, there has been no such organisation dedicated to gambling addiction in Ireland.
My inspiration to set up Problem Gambling Ireland originally came from reading University College Dublin's research into gambling behaviours (specifically problem gambling) in Ireland , entitled 'Playing Social Roulette' (June 2015). In my work as an addiction counsellor in private practice, I was aware of the damage caused to individuals and their loved ones by gambling addiction. However, the report showed the shocking scale of the issue and the dearth of dedicated, independent services. Subsequent to reading the report, I was fortunate to be involved with the U-Casadh Project winning an Impact Award at the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards (2015). Attending the award ceremony in October, I was surrounded by social entrepreneurs who had followed their passion for positive social change. This was the final push I needed to make the move from having the idea to taking on the challenge. Currently I am operating the website, www.problemgambling.ie, on a voluntary basis. It is a free information resource for anyone who has been negatively affected by gambling. I am in the process of bringing together a Board of Directors (with no links to the gambling industry) in order to set up as a not-for-profit organisation. I intend, with the help of the Board, future volunteers and (possibly) staff, to further develop the organisation to lobby and advocate for improvements to treatment and changes in legislation, raise awareness of problem gambling, develop educational programs, develop treatment programs (and have them evaluated), undertake research, as well as monitoring gambling marketing and advertising.
On a final note, a Goldsmiths University (UK) report in 2014 warned that “the idea of ‘problem gambling’ is politically useful … It focuses attention on individual gamblers, rather than relationships between the industry, the state, products and policies.” These are the relationships that Problem Gambling Ireland, an independent organisation (with teeth) intends to examine.
Founder, The Gambling Clinic
B.A. Degree Counselling Skills & Addiction Studies
Member of the Association of Professional Counsellors & Psychotherapists in Ireland
Email: barry [at] thegamblingclinic.ie
Barry Grant, Founder. Addiction Counsellor