It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.
The gambling sector is a highly successful industry in this country, employing more than 100,000 people and contributing more than £1.4 billion to the Exchequer in betting and gambling duty alone. A large majority of the British public enjoy gambling as a leisure activity, with 73% of the UK population participating last year alone, which is an increase of 5% from 2007. In his excellent book, “Gambling: A Healthy Bet”, Patrick Basham finds that gamblers tend to participate more in community and social activities than non-gamblers and donate more to charity. However, for a small proportion—0.9%, according to the latest prevalent study—gambling can develop into a problem that negatively affects their lives.
What we must bear in mind, however, is that 0.9% is a very small amount. Many experts in the field have concluded that the small rise in the number of those with problem gambling in the latest prevalent study may not be a true representation of an increase in problem gambling; it may well be that problem gambling is both better reported and more socially acceptable today and that its true extent is now, therefore, becoming more apparent. Nevertheless, it is difficult to think of any other policy area in which 0.9% of the population affects Government policy as markedly as seems to be the case with gambling.
As with all other forms of addiction, there will always be a proportion of the population who are addicted to gambling. It is impossible to eliminate addiction, no matter how much money, how many programmes or how much treatment is provided. The blame for an addiction should not be placed at the industry’s door, because it is not the industry itself that makes people addicts—it merely offers a service—but the individuals themselves. We should therefore treat the problem, which is the person concerned, and stop attacking the product.