Without proper regulation, the industry helps the rich launder their money and get richer while those who can least afford to lose lose more
The fine of £6.2m levied on the bookmakers William Hill today by the Gambling Commission represents a small victory in the constant struggle against the abuses of a system that lends itself to exploitation. In this case, the firm was found to have been astonishingly trusting about where some problem gamblers got their money: although there is meant to be a system to identify and warn off players who cannot control themselves, in one case a player managed to bet more than £147,000 over a period of 18 months, and lost more than two-thirds. William Hill’s response was to send two “automated social responsibility emails”. In a similar case the bookmaker simply asked a man who had staked more than £100,000 whether he was comfortable with it. When he replied that he was, the company decided that it, too, was comfortable with taking his money.
In the days before drink-driving became socially unacceptable, as well as illegal, drunks used to be asked whether they felt all right to drive. The social damage done by problem gambling is comparable to that done by drink-driving. The scandal of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), digital slot machines with which it is possible to bet £100 in 20 seconds, and which are carefully programmed to keep the players in thrall for as long as possible, is under consideration by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The minister is expected to announce a drastically lowered limit on the stakes, to bring them in line with the mechanical fruit machines they superseded. At the same time we’re seeing a concerning growth of gambling inside video games aimed at children, whose play money must be purchased with real currency.