• Stuart Large

It’s Crossed The Line : The true cost of Football and Gambling’s codependency

An unlikely trailblazer has emerged as the agent for change and reform to counter the worsening problem of Gambling addiction in the UK. It’s not David James MBE, ex-Footballer turned charity patron for Africa’s disadvantaged children neither is it Tony Adams, the talismanic England Captain who saw an opportunity to use his lived experience of addition to help other sports men and women. No, this one is certainly a visionary but operates within a very different institution, the one of faith.

The Bishop of St. Albans, Rt. Reverend Dr Alan Smith, became visible in December 2018 when he wrote to Parliament suggesting a Special Inquiry Committee ‘to investigate these conflicting images of gambling’. Following due process and far-reaching research, the Select Committee for Social and Economic Impact published ‘Time for Action’* last month, illustrating the alarming trends in problem gambling and related suicide.

Even the most ambivalent about Sport cannot escape the prolific nature of Betting advertisements and with a closer look, I established 60% of teams in Football’s top two leagues endorse an Online Gambling brand on their shirt. Research conducted by Academics at Goldsmiths University in 2017* found that across three episodes of BBC’s Match of the Day (a public service broadcaster) gambling brands appeared onscreen for between 71-89% of match highlights - be it on shirt or in stadium. Then we have the Betting firm Brand Ambassadors enticing us to have a friendly flutter-on-the-footy, also known as ‘Gamblification’. SkyBet, the affiliate of Sky Sports, holds one trump card and played it with a stunning lack of judgment when deciding to use its team of Football pundits in an Ad campaign, including a recovered addict whose struggle with Gambling has been well publicised during and after their career.

‘Unfortunately availability of help is very limited, addiction services really are the Cinderella of the NHS’ says Dr Niall Campbell, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Priory Group, who has over thirty years experience in treating addictions and explains ‘even in the private sector Insurance companies don’t recognise gambling as an addiction. so it’s very difficult’.

Half of the population gambles at least once per month and the greater the problem, the higher the profit. The industry provides employment for just shy of 100,000 people, National Lottery income funds very worthwhile projects and Tax revenues are substantial from an industry worth £14.3 Billion to the UK economy in 2019. Whilst only 0.8% of population are deemed Problem Gamblers compared to 2.66% of low-risk gamblers, they generate a staggering 25% of Online Gambling profit**. The conflation of betting firms wooing ‘VIP’ Gamblers with dopamine-laced triggers to bet on live games will only steepen the up-tick. The Gambling Commission’s response in 2019 was to demand proposals from the industry to reverse this pernicious practice stating ‘In some cases, we had seen evidence of such schemes encouraging harmful play’. They have also launched an open consultation last month in a bid to clamp down on inducement of VIPs.

As Dr Campbell says, help is available from Gamcare: a National ‘free to access' support service and delivered by Breakeven in the pan-Sussex, Brighton & Hove area. Ian Semel, local Delivery Manager, says the service is simple to access by either the gambler or person affected via online chat, email, phone, GP or National Clinic referral. He tells me referrals are from both men and women from all kinds of backgrounds ‘on average up to ten people will be affected by each problem gambler’.

The National Problem Gambling Clinic was created in response to the growing demand. It is part of Central & NW London NHS Trust and led by the pioneering Clinician Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones who tells me about organisations such as Clean Up Gambling who have been effective in lobbying for change. One of NGPC’s senior clinicians is Dr. Venetia Leonidaki, Consultant Psychiatrist, who explains about the diagnostic tool used to evaluate symptoms, along with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to treat the addiction and help the patient move towards achieving abstinence.

For now, The Select Committee deserves credit for setting clear demands for data collection and tighter Industry regulation is surely a must. As for Football, if it plans on staying our National Sport the FA and Premier League must work together with all stakeholders to do different. More ‘stick’ and less ‘twist’ is required, otherwise injury-time will become evermore painful.

If you are worried about someone’s gambling you can contact or Problem Gambling Clinic NPGC referral page

HL Select Committee report here: Time-for-Action

Academic research paper here:

stuart large

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