A safe bet? You discussed the harm vs. harmlessness of gambling

August 14, 2012, 10:30 AM GMT+0

Deputy Labour Party Leader, Harriet Harman, said recently that New Labour’s decision to open up different forms of gambling in the UK with the Gambling Act of 2005, had been a ‘mistake’ – and that measures it had implemented needed reversing.

Ms Harman told Channel 4’s Dispatches Programme that she has received numerous letters and e-mails detailing the detrimental effects that the Gambling Act has had, both in her constituency and in many other deprived areas across the country.

“If we had known then what we know now,” she expanded, “we wouldn’t have allowed this, because it’s not just ruining the high street, it’s ruining people’s lives."

Academic research has suggested however that most people who take part in gambling do not develop a problem, and that many see it as a harmless activity to be indulged in from time to time.

But how did participants in Labs perceive the matter? We posed the question:

Do you think there is a point at which gambling or betting can cross a line from being a harmless activity to becoming a problem, or not?

The largest proportion of people taking part to give their views in Labs believed there IS a point at which gambling or betting can cross a line from harmless to harmful, for both the gambler and family alike.

  • The vast majority of participants argued that gambling becomes a widespread problem when it causes high levels of addiction. Similarly, a large number of participants equated gambling addictions with that of drug and alcohol addictions.
  • Some participants noted that gambling becomes more of a serious problem when people spend so much money that they cannot afford the basic necessities of life, with the problem becoming so severe that gambling or betting addicts cannot afford food. In addition, participants noted that family members are likely to suffer greatly from gambling addictions, with the problem becomes so severe that not only do gamblers lose their job, but their family suffers directly as a result of the gamblers addiction.
  • Additionally, some participants noted that gambling crosses a line and becomes a serious problem when vulnerable people are involved. On the whole, the perception is that these people live in poorer areas and will have less networks of support from family and friends to deal with the gambling addiction.
  • Another perception was that the rise of online gambling and super casinos has contributed to the point at which gambling and betting becomes a serious problem.

Below are some comments from panellists, representative of the sorts of things those who took part said on the topic:

Gambling is an addiction which is as pernicious as drugs or alcohol.” Anon

“When it threatens your lifestyle and family.” Andy B, Aylesbury

“You have to know when to stop. Betting every day is not good and I know lots of people who have lost everything through gambling even their homes.” Anon

“I think there are far too many opportunities for people to gamble today, particularly online, and these are being encouraged and advertised to those who can least afford to and people lose money on games of chance. I find an annual flutter on a horse race such as the Grand National to be an acceptable bit of fun, in moderation, but on balance I think our gambling controls have become far too lax. The National Lottery has been a mixed blessing; I used to do it, but no longer do. Too many people, I believe, are seduced into seeing gambling as a way out of their problems, greedily anticipating large wins which, in reality, they are never likely to have but instead find themselves with less and less money.” Mark S, Middlesex

“Gambling targets the most vulnerable people, low income and people on benefits as they try to win money, they hardly ever do.” Rosie S, London

“If you are putting your finances in danger, then you've crossed a line. Going to Las Vegas, gambling every day is fine if you can afford it, but if you're spending more than you can realistically afford, then its bad news.” Nikki L, Carmarthenshire

Only a handful of MediaLab participants felt, by contrast, that there was NOT a point at which gambling or betting could become harmful rather than harmless. They felt that most people had enough self-control that gambling did not need more stringent controls.

  • Participants with this view often noted that individuals who have high levels of self-control can stop gambling and betting from becoming more of a widespread problem.
  • One participant noted that a large part of controlling the threat of a person’s gambling activities escalating and becoming a problem, “depends on people’s temperament rather than what is out there to tempt them.”
  • Additionally, another participant remarked that: “It's down to self-control. You shouldn't bet more than you can afford to.”

What's your view? Add your voice to the debate in Disqus below