I participated in an important debate this week on gambling-related harm, an issue of real concern as there is an estimated 430,000 gambling addicts in the UK, as well as a further 2 million at risk. Gambling is linked to between 4% and 11% of suicides.
Whilst many people gamble responsibly and come to no harm, gambling addiction can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of people, families and communities. One issue that must be addressed is the opportunities available to gamble, such as the proliferation of betting shops in our communities and on our high streets, often in our most deprived areas. The Scottish Government has and will continue to use planning laws to prevent the further proliferation of high street bookmakers which research shows is a particular issue in socio-economically deprived communities. Online Gambling introduces further hazards as it increases the opportunity to gamble for those who are vulnerable, so there must be greater regulation to ensure proper affordability checks and spending limits are enforced. We also need to look at advertising, with those vulnerable to addiction or already living with addiction being regularly exposed to the lure of gambling, with their next bet often only a click away.
We also need to introduce a mandatory levy on the gambling industry to provide more research, education and treatment around gambling due to concerns about the growing levels of harm associated with gambling.
Working against this will be the powerful gambling lobby, which has very deep pockets and is resistant to change. This lobby worked hard to prevent and delay the Government taking meaningful action to reduce the stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2 from next month. It was only the outrage across the House of Commons which mitigated against any delay.
The benefits of addressing this problem are wide-ranging, with reduced health, welfare and employment costs, reduced homelessness and potentially reduced criminal justice costs. The benefits to the families and communities of those with such an addiction are beyond price.
If the UK Government is not willing to tackle this issue, then it must ensure that gambling regulation is fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament so that it has the full powers in place to tackle the problem effectively.
Watch my contribution by clicking the link below.