A couple of weeks ago saw concerns both new and old as to the role technology plays in gambling mulled over with sincerity on BBC Radio 4’s The Long View. Chris Webster listened in.
It’s rare that the gambling industry gets any kind of substantive public platform, whether to defend itself or otherwise. Still, just such an instance was provided for last Tuesday, in the form of BBC Radio 4’s The Long View: which compared the role revolutionary technology played in launching Britain’s remote betting trade during the 19th century to the present-day transformative spread of online gambling and in-match betting.
The programme, hosted by Jonathan Freedland and recorded live at Lingfield Park Racecourse, drew on the expertise and research of local radio presenter and betting historian Carl Chinn – who detailed how the (more or less) simultaneous introduction of the railroad (bearing newspapers) and the telegraph (bearing information to the newspapers) in the late 1840’s had permitted for the establishment of remote betting shops almost overnight.
Actor Matthew McNulty, who stars as the ex-husband of a working-class gambling addict in the ITV drama Cleaning Up, was on hand to give life to one contemporary account of this period writ- ten by Charles Dickens.
“Presto,”penned the famed novelist. “Betting shops spring up in every street. There is a demand at all the broker’s shops for old fly-blown coloured prints of race-horses, and for any odd folio volumes that have the appearance of ledgers.”
Indeed, betting proved so popular with the so-called “lower orders” that, citing social concerns, by 1853 the government of Lord Palmerston banned the practice altogether – effectively consigning book-makers to the black-market back-alleys until liberalisation in 1961.
But with respect to the mobile phones and online gambling industry of today, guest Dr Heather Wardle, who serves as deputy chair of the Gambling Commission’s Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, was quick to echo the very same moral concerns of yesteryear.
“Every time there is a leap in communication infra-structure, the gambling industry expands,” she said. “The question for policy makers is, do you just sit and do nothing whilst you observe the repercussions?” But in the industry corner was Paul Leyland of strategy consultancy Regulus Partners, who was quick to point out that technology simply boosting the public’s capacity to gamble didn’t necessarily equate to increased
levels of addiction.
“If a lot of people are spending money that they can afford, then that revenue is a welcome element of the economy,” he argued. “There’s an enormous danger in seeing revenue, and seeing a problem. The problem is in the behaviour, and not the revenue.”
Meanwhile, ABB chief executive and fellow guest Malcolm George conceded that the speed of technological development was starting to outstrip the ability of law- makers to keep apace.
“I think one of the interesting lessons from history is that it took the best part of 100 years to see legislation that liberalised and opened up the market for bookmakers,” he said.“But just recently from the 2005 Act that allowed FOBTs, its taken just 14 years to see a swing in legislation. The cycles are much shorter. The world is moving faster.”