Dicey Plans?

    Lurid tabloid headlines have warned of the dangers that await
    the UK if proposed changes to its gambling laws are carried out. If
    they are to be believed, Las Vegas-style casinos could wreak havoc
    with the “British way of life”.

    But the increasing use of the internet, interactive TV and
    mobile phones as gaming tools are already creating problematic new
    opportunities for gambling addictions to take hold here, say the
    proposals’ critics. This is especially so for the 16 to 24 age
    group which is four times as likely to develop a problem as the
    larger population.

    Without appropriate regulation, as promised by the Gambling
    Bill, the experts fear that authorities will lose their chance to
    manage gaming and its risks.

    Also likely to drive up the incidence of UK gambling problems is
    the increasing availability of gambling opportunities that are
    “literally around the corner”, says Adrian Scarfe, clinical
    practice manager for GamCare, a charity which provides counselling
    services and a helpline for gamblers.

    “A lot of the media emphasis has been on this kind of Las
    Vegas-style casino and such,” says Scarfe. “But most of our
    hardcore work is still with people who get involved in betting, or
    with machines in betting shops, fruit machines. These are very
    addictive forms of gambling. The availability of gambling is my
    main worry – and its location.”

    Now five years old, the British Gambling Prevalence Study by the
    National Centre for Social Research found that between
    275,000-375,000 people in the UK were problem gamblers. Although,
    these are still the most up-to-date figures new forms of gaming
    have become available since the study. GamCare’s helpline, which
    provides professional counselling to problem gamblers 24 hours a
    day, seven days a week, received 30,000 calls in 2003.

    GamCare trains counsellors at 10 partner agencies across the UK
    to work with gamblers, as well as educating teachers, prison
    workers and other groups with an interest in learning more about
    the so-called hidden addiction. GamCare also counsels up to 80
    clients a week at its London offices.

    What lies ahead for the British problem gambling climate depends
    on the future of the Gambling Bill. Within the past year, GamCare
    has also found itself the focus of attention from international
    gaming interests hoping to obtain a foothold in the UK casino
    market, in part by signifying their potential to be socially
    responsible.
    In countries where gambling has been up and running for years, such
    as the US and South Africa, gaming companies are quick to point out
    that they plough some of the revenue raised into gambling addiction
    treatment services. However, some would argue that without the
    gambling opportunities, fewer services would be needed.

    So demonstrating social responsibility will be critical for the
    success of any such gaming interests in securing one of the highly
    sought after casino licences – if and when the Gambling Bill is
    passed.

    While a panel will choose the locations for the eight so-called
    regional casinos – the largest of the casinos to be developed –
    local authorities will have a say in where the smaller casinos are
    built. And experts are concerned that an interest in regenerating
    downtrodden areas may lead to the exposure of vulnerable
    populations to easily accessible and convenient gambling.

    UK gambling expert Peter Collins, who has helped start a problem
    gaming services programme in South Africa, says that if he could
    impose any requirements he would locate casinos outside population
    centres. And he wants to see the use of smart card technology to
    set limits on how much people gamble. “With cashpoints, there’s
    only so much money you can take out in a day, for instance,” he
    says.

    Whether or not the bill is enacted, problem gambling services in
    the UK will have to move forward in several ways, including
    providing targeted services for minority groups. “We prefer that
    the bill will go through,” says Scarfe, “simply because it provides
    a good basis of regulation and makes rather more sense to bring
    everything up to date. And we will grow because a larger number
    will need help.”

    Working with the addicted

    In the past 12 months the number of applications for a place at
    the Gordon House Association, the only specialist residential
    treatment provider for addicted gamblers in the UK, has more than
    doubled.

    “They are the severeley addicted, not the problem gamblers,”
    says managing director Faith Freestone.  “Addicts are at the
    severest end of the spectrum, the ones who end up homeless, jobless
    and losing their families.”

    The association takes addicts from all over the country, but has
    just 35 beds for men in two units and three beds in a women’s only
    unit.  If it can’t accommodate people there is no one else to refer
    them on to.

    Freestone is not against the Gambling Bill or gambling itself,
    but says “at a time when gambling is growing we hvae a moral and
    societal responsiblity to put money into treatment”.

    This is not happening.  Unlike drug and alcohol treatment
    services there is no NHS funding for gambling addiction treatment. 
    The industry can voluntarily contributre to the Responsiblity in
    Gamlbing Trust which aims to raise £3m per year to fund
    research, education and treatment.

    But with gaming profits of billions of pounds this is a drop in
    the ocean.

    So would the bill increase the problem?  “The more accessible
    gambling is, the more people take part, and the more will develop
    problems,” says Freestone.  “It’s naive to believe that it will not
    lead to an increase.”

     

    Oregon’s Public Health Approach 

    Since 1993, the north western US state of Oregon has had
    casinos. Owned by Native American tribes, they are smaller versions
    of Las Vegas-style operations, complete with entertainment.

    The state is also in the gambling business, running a lottery
    system that includes standard offerings such as scratch cards and
    lotto along with more than 10,000 video poker machines. The state
    is now expanding its reach with video slot machines. And for good
    financial reason – lottery revenues contribute 7 per cent of
    Oregon’s $400m (£213m) budget. 

    The lottery also makes another significant contribution in
    Oregon. According to Jeffrey J Marotta, problem gambling services
    manager in the state’s department of human services, about 70 per
    cent of the gaming problems reported to gambling addiction
    specialists and counsellors in Oregon stem from the lottery and its
    machines.

    “The casinos are not our big issue,” says Marotta. “What we have
    here in Oregon is something called ‘convenience gaming’. That
    creates most of our problems.”

    Oregon, however, has adopted a holistic public health approach
    to dealing with its citizens’ gambling problems. Marotta
    administers a fund of $2.8m a year, generated by lottery revenues,
    that pays for three tiers of gambling addiction treatment services.
    Recognised as having the most innovative approach to problem
    gambling services in the US, Oregon also reaches out to
    African-Americans and Latinos with gambling problems through
    customised services as well as to state prisoners.

    Marotta’s problem gambling services also benefit from the 10 per
    cent of lottery revenues that is allocated to advertising and
    marketing problem gaming awareness campaigns. “When the TV ads run,
    calls to the help line increase by about 25 per cent.”

    According to the two most recent prevalence studies, there has
    been a drop from 3.3 per cent to 2.3 per cent in the population
    with a gambling problem between 1998 and 2001. “With the public
    health approach, we’re not necessarily stopping people from
    gambling. We’re reducing the harm it causes the person, their
    family and their communities,” says Marotta.

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