Is gambling really the new tobacco? Industry figures speak about the consequences of such an association, how it undermines confidence in social responsibility initiatives and how important it is to recognise the distinct gambling sectors.
Carolyn Harris, the outspoken MP for Swansea East and Chair of the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group has once again demonstrated her ability to mobilise and polarise opinion following a speech in which she said ‘The gambling industry has become the new tobacco industry’.
Her comments, which were tweeted by parliamentary correspondents and which she subsequently re-tweeted, have raised the collective temperature, with the majority of industry thought leaders contacted by Coinslot expressing a mixture of anger, upset and disappointment with what they regard as an outrageous and insulting comparison, drawing attention to factual inaccuracies contained within the speech and what many believe to be the calculated creation of a deliberately damaging narrative at what is a critical time for the industry as it limbers up for the long awaited review of the Gambling Act.
However, that sentiment has not always been the case. Less than three years ago Carolyn Harris made a triumphant, fist-pumping appearance at Bacta’s Annual Convention where she received a standing ovation from the assembled ranks in lieu of her leading role in the campaign which resulted in the reduction of the B2 stake to £2, a government decision which went against the recommendations made at the time by the Gambling Commission. Whether that support was based on a convenient coming together of a shared foe, the fact remains that important relationships were forged between the member for Swansea East. and senior figures in the low stake gaming and amusements industry. In fact, a number of figures Coinslot approached for comment politely declined to participate due to the respect they have for her.
There’s no doubt that Carolyn Harris is a formidable campaigner who believes in the issues she champions and is a passionate constituency MP ‘Standing up for Swansea East’. She is also extremely influential. Named as the Mirror Politics Campaigner of the Year (2016), she is Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour, chairs the APPG and perhaps most significantly she serves as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer – potentially the next Prime Minister. Sunday Times writer Gabriel Pogrund, reporting on the first 100 days of the Labour leader, named Harris as belonging to what he referred to as ‘Team Keir’ – an inner sanctum of five influential figures who behind the scenes wield significant political clout. All of which makes the ‘gambling/tobacco’ narrative even more perturbing for many in the sector who argue that in the digital age such a damaging and unfair description cannot be corrected or qualified and serves to fuel the toxic tinnitus surrounding what is an extremely broad church comprising numerous verticals and delivered across multiple platforms.
Some argue that her references to tobacco were made only in relation to online operators, some that she should have been less clumsy with her language and specified exactly who her comments were directed at and others that the comparisons were damaging, insulting and plain wrong.
There is a distinct difference between online and land based…When it comes to gambling related harm, the online sector is the premier league
National President, Bacta
In regards to the comments and tweets by Carolyn Harris the correlation she raises with the tobacco industry is directly linked to the significant and increased amount of advertising solely for online gambling across all media channels. CH also highlighted the sponsorship of premier league football teams and other influences that contribute to making online gambling fashionable.
I recall from my youth watching the John Player Special and Marlboro teams battle it out for Formula 1, scalextric cars were also available and even James Bond smoked on screen. We don’t see any of this now.
This has been more apparent during the lockdown period which has seen a 25 percent increase in online slot play and given the absence of stakes and prize limits online this is highly likely to contribute to an increase in gambling related harm.
There have been several high profile Gov and House of Lords reports published recently, all of which focus around the issues of online gambling, with land based hardly mentioned and when it is, its Casinos that are referenced.
So the amount of advertising for online combined with the ease of access via modern smart phones, you start to see her point.
There is a distinct difference between online and land based, especially Products offered by the Arcade Amusement industry which due to the extensive list of regulatory restrictions makes our sector considerably safer. When it comes to gambling related harm, the online sector is the premier league.
This irresponsible approach takes the critical focus away from those who genuinely need our support and our help
Chief Executive, Gambling Business Group
Why let the facts get in the way of a toxic narrative? Whether the speech should be classified as misinformation or disinformation is open to conjecture and making the comparison with tobacco will offend all of the very conscientious people that I know working in gambling, as I am sure it was intended to do.
Tobacco can harm everyone, even those not using it. Gambling doesn’t harm the vast majority of those who enjoy their freedom of choosing to engage with it. They are therefore not the same.
Furthermore, no one in the gambling industry says or believes that nobody is harmed from gambling because we know that some are.
The research shows that in the UK 0.5 percent of adults do experience harm from gambling. It’s estimated that there are 350,000 problem gamblers in the UK, but what is an extra million fictional problem gamblers between MPs?
However, the really sad thing is that a high- profile MP is catastrophising the actual number of vulnerable people for her own political ends. This irresponsible approach takes the critical focus away from those who genuinely need our support and our help.
Playing politics with peoples’ addictions and vulnerabilities plumbs new depths. Working with the member for Swansea East against other sectors of the industry was always a risky strategy and now everyone can see it starting to seriously back-fire.”
Responsible gaming is in Gauselmann’s DNA
General Manager, Gauselmann UK
Gauselmann has invested in excess of £200million in the provision of safe, responsible high street gambling entertainment across 120 towns and cities in the UK.
Any comparisons with tobacco, a product that will contribute to the premature death of everyone who is exposed to it, is not only incorrect but it is also deflating and depressing. Responsible gaming is in Gauselmann’s DNA – it is the basis for our business.
It is hysterical prohibitionist nonsense
Betting and Gaming Council
It is hysterical prohibitionist nonsense to describe betting and gaming, a leisure pursuit enjoyed by 30 million people safely every year, with a tobacco product that is known to harm everyone that uses it.
Even compared to alcohol, hospital admissions related to gambling last year were in the low hundreds compared with over 1 million admissions related to alcohol. Unlike any other product, betting and gaming companies enable their customers to self-exclude entirely from their services.
The BGC, along with other industry trade bodies, are working hard to tackle problem gambling but let’s get this into perspective, problem gambling rates have remained stable at around 0.7 per cent of the adult population for nearly 20 years.
What matters is how we respond. We must all take steps to ensure the highest possible standards of social responsibility
Paul J Terroni
Strategy and Business Development Director, Novomatic UK Limited
I believe, having now read the recent TIMES article, that Carolyn was referring to the online sector when making this comment and from my personal perspective, there is no doubt that there has been some behaviour within our wider industry in recent years which has been irresponsible and dangerous. In such circumstances it is of little surprise that MP’s are expressing concern.
What matters is how we respond. We must all take steps to ensure the highest possible standards of social responsibility. We must clearly communicate to parliamentarians the actions we are taking and government should ensure the appropriate regulation of online gaming and stamp out the behaviour of a few which is tarnishing the many.
The link between gambling and tobacco is dangerous and totally wrong…
Managing Director, Majestic Bingo
I think the link between gambling and tobacco is dangerous and totally wrong on so many different levels. Tobacco is a legal drug that if used correctly will kill you, there are also much wider issues connected with harms caused by passive smoking and smoking does directly impact other people.
Unlike gambling there is no upside to smoking. Responsible companies – mainly retailers – do a lot to protect the vulnerable and the number of problem gamblers is low especially in retail bingo.
However, there are other parts of the speech that I agree with.
For example, the age to participate in the National Lottery should have been 18-years from the outset, Loot Boxes represent a danger to children and gambling adverts should have a watershed and not be aligned to sports fixtures. Online if managed irresponsibly represents an issue. Stakes, limits and RTP should be applied across the board especially with regards to slots.
The danger with colourful sound bites is that they get picked out … and used in isolation
President Euromat and former Bacta National President
The comparison with tobacco is clearly wrong. There’s no safe way to have a cigarette and the overwhelming majority of people who gamble do so safely.
If less than 1 percent of smokers suffered health problems as a result of consuming tobacco then I’m certain that smoking in public places would not have been banned.
The danger with colourful sound bites is that they get picked out by journalists and commentators and used in isolation. Today’s news is no longer tomorrow’s fish and chip paper – and the statement that gambling is the new tobacco industry is with us forever.
While I like to believe that Carolyn’s comments were not aimed at businesses in the AGC, FEC, Bingo or Pub sectors, the public and even some policy makers don’t differentiate between types of gambling, so it’s vital that we are more precise with the language that we use.”
Tobacco comparison “disappointing and inaccurate”
Director of Public and Political Relations, Gauselmann UK
As a professional business which invests heavily in social responsibility, it is disappointing and inaccurate that we should be compared to the tobacco industry.
We are fully aware that a small percentage of players are harmed through gambling and, for that reason we employ staff that are trained to interact with our customers and work with our trade association to constantly improve our protection measures.
Tobacco reference is more an attack on industry ‘tactics’
Chief Executive, Bacta
I don’t think the comparison is a fair one. Every single puff of a cigarette harmful, a single bet isn’t. To be fair I think Carolyn is talking more about the tactics she feels the industry is using to defend their position.
I do not include bacta or its members in that. We have always acknowledged and responded to concerns about gambling related harm positively and proactively in our sector.
The reality is that this is just one of a long line of many negative comments … rooted in the highly public and divisive debate around FOBT’s
Chief Executive, The Bingo Association
The comments by Carolyn aren’t helpful to Bingo or to gambling, especially when taken in isolation as this one appears to have been, but the reality is that this is just one of a long line of many negative comments from many sources over the past few years rooted in the highly public and divisive debate around FOBT’s.
Personally I don’t think it undermines the good SR work being done across the Industry any more than lots of other criticisms levelled at the Industry have attempted to do. Bingo is trying to focus on doing things better in the area of SR with some success, and these types of comments won’t distract us from this goal.
Unless we get our act together gambling will indeed be perceived as the new tobacco
Chief Executive, The Hippodrome Casino
Carolyn’s remarks were clearly about the online industry, but should act as an alarm bell for the whole industry.
Unless we get our act together gambling will indeed be perceived as the new tobacco and Government will take draconian action. Many within our sector have not learned the lessons from the FOBT debacle. The irresponsible actions of a few companies operating online, pose a risk to all of us because we will all be tarnished. But it is not just the online sector that needs to respond. It is land based too.
We should all be asking ourselves what more we need to do to satisfy Ministers and regulators who are rightly demanding higher standards. We need to act pre-emptively to avert unwelcome and disproportionate regulation.
An assertion that disregards ‘how seriously we take social responsibility’
Managing Director, NRM Group
To suggest gambling has become the new tobacco is a totally, unfounded and pernicious assertion. It demonstrates a lack of insight from someone who holds such an influential position both as chair of the APPG and as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the Labour Party – potentially the next Prime Minister.
I have spent my working life in this industry and I would gladly host Carolyn Harris and her parliamentary colleague, our constituency MP Emma Hardy, at NRM’s head office in Hull to meet my team, to explain in greater detail the structure and make-up of the gambling industry, to underline how seriously we take social responsibility and demonstrate how technology-led companies such as NRM are delivering a safe gambling entertainment experience to many millions of consumers throughout the UK and beyond.
Surely it has to be more productive to engage with those organisations that makeup the gambling industry rather than peddle offensive rhetoric?