State encouragement of gambling is “wicked” and is hugely damaging to society, a prominent columnist has said.
Dominic Lawson criticised the Conservatives’ introduction of the National Lottery in 1994, but his full ire was focused on the wider liberalisation under Labour.
Writing for The Sunday Times, he said, “the social impact of this political endorsement of the gambling culture was as nothing to that which has grown out of the Labour government’s decision in 2005 to give the industry the free licence it had long lobbied for.”
Lawson welcomed last month’s publication of the Government’s consultation on gambling and its decision to reduce the maximum stakes of highly addictive fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling.
“telling people to bet responsibly while promoting it non-stop is not going to work”
He went on to attack Labour’s endorsement of “a gambling culture that went far beyond the high street” while in government.
“Most significantly, that government ended the ban on TV advertising of gambling”, he wrote, adding that leading sports programmes are “saturated” with gambling adverts.
Lawson said it is clear that advertisers are chiefly targeting young people and explained how relaxed rules led to the development of online casino games designed to attract children.
He called for people to listen to Lord Chadlington, who recently spoke in the House of Lords on the impact of gambling advertising on children.
Lord Chadlington, who worked in public relations, said: “all my professional experience informs me that telling people to bet responsibly while promoting it non-stop is not going to work”.
Currently gamblers can wager up to £100 every 20 seconds on FOBTs, but ministers say the stake will be lowered to between £50 and £2.
Carolyn Harris MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs, has campaigned for tighter controls on the machines, and said the change was necessary.
She said: “Families across the country have been devastated by the effects of gambling addiction, which is too often accompanied by theft and substance abuse.
“The government and gambling industry have a social responsibility to ensure these highly addictive machines are more highly regulated.”
Urging others to respond to the consultation, she added she hoped the Government would “see sense” and reduce the maximum stake to £2.