Credit: Uutella/Wikimedia

Gambling firms are cruising for a regulatory bruising

Paddy Power and co need to show they are helping addicts.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 09 Mar 2016

Rightly or wrongly it seems odd how brazen gambling advertising is, and how easy it is for people to bet their livelihoods away. Alcohol marketers have to cope with extremely stringent rules about how large a drink they can show on screen at one time and casual investors have to jump through onerous hoops to invest tens of pounds in small companies.

But gaming firms pack out TV ad breaks with films determined to convince us that playing online roulette on your sofa is as glamorous as being James Bond at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, or that betting on football is an essential element of the social life of a 20-something lad. It’s not hard to see how some people can get into big trouble.

The Gambling Commission’s report published this morning into failures at Paddy Power make for painful reading. It documents how staff at one of the company’s stores encouraged a problem gambler to keep coming back and that he eventually lost all of the five jobs he was working and ended up homeless. It also called into question how effectively the company had been at preventing money laundering.

‘The historical failings outlined in this report were clearly unacceptable,’ a spokesperson said. ‘Paddy Power has since significantly strengthened its internal procedures and staff have been retrained to ensure these procedures are implemented effectively.’

Maybe so but this won’t be the last time the industry’s ethics fall under the spotlight. The NHS reckons there may be as many as 593,000 problem gamblers in the UK, a number that has risen on the back of online gaming. So-called fixed-odds betting terminals, the ‘crack cocaine’ of fruit machines, have caught the eye of regulators and drawn the ire of campaign groups.

Steps to massively reduce the availability of gambling would surely be a mistake – prohibition isn’t generally a strategy that works. But gambling firms needs to show they are committed to helping customers with an addiction or they risk provoking a backlash from the state.

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