My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, for bringing this very important debate to the House. I apologise in advance if what I am about to say repeats some of his points, or those of the eloquent noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who made some very good points.
I am sure that many of your Lordships will know of somebody who was addicted to gambling. Your Lordships will also know that gambling can bring devastation to family life and even lead to criminal offences and a complete destruction of a person’s life. Gambling is as addictive as alcohol or drugs. I am sure that people cleverer than me—psychologists, for example—will be able to explain to the House what it is that makes people want to gamble. We need to focus on what it is that lures young people into gambling.
Allow me to go quite a way back in time to the late 1960s and early 1980s—a time when there was no internet, no gambling advertising on TV and no scratchcards in newsagents, when, as I recall, all that was available was horseracing and dog racing, and when ordinary working-class people tried to supplement their income by gambling. They would hear of a win that was equivalent to a whole week’s wages—that was the attraction that lead to the addiction.
One thing we all know is that there are no bankrupt bookmakers, but there are many bankrupt gamblers. In the long term, gamblers never win—bookmakers always win.
Moving forward to the current arena, we have not only horseracing and dog racing, but things you can buy in newsagents such as scratchcards. We have online gambling, slot machine arcades and television advertising between sports events. Opportunity and awareness of gambling have made a giant leap. Unfortunately, gambling has been made easy for people. Gambling ventures stating that only people over the age of 18 are allowed, for example, to buy scratchcards, gamble online or go into slot machine arcades are fine, but the fact is children find a way of doing it.
Why are young people attracted to this? I guess again psychologists may tell you that it is brought about by the culture of the young person’s family, by the company they keep or maybe the fact that they feel they have no chance of getting a good a job but have a desire to get hold of money by gambling as opposed to something more terrible such as drug dealing. Their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters or uncles may be serial gamblers. As silly as it may sound, that young person should be able to see that it has not done them any good. The worst thing that could ever happen to anyone is to win, and to win something which represents a week’s wages or a year’s pocket money, for example. That will get the person hooked.
I believe that part of the school curriculum should not only be allocated to discussing the dangers of alcohol, drugs and smoking; added to that should be a message about gambling—a very strong message put out to the young people that there is no such thing as a rich gambler, but there are many rich bookmakers. You cannot win in the long term. If that message is put across to young people it may sink in that spending money in trying to win a fortune is a foolish thing to embark upon.
The adverts shown between football matches are incredible. They offer free bets, refunds on bets, and are repeated several times during a game. More offers are made at half time. In fact, the whole of the advertising slots during a game are taken up with gambling advertising. What amazes me is that the policy of TV companies seems to have changed. In my days of advertising on TV I was told that inside a three-minute slot of advertising you were not allowed to have two competitors in the same break. I am not sure whether this was something made up by the policymakers at the time, TV broadcasters or the regulators, but now there are several adverts from different organisations in the same slot. It looks like that rule has gone completely out of the window.
I have noted certain adverts on TV where I see the actor Ray Winstone as the lead character. They have recently started to add at the end of the advert “gamble responsibly”. These words are absolutely pathetic. At this point I clarify, if any of the media are looking in, that I am not accusing Mr Winstone of being pathetic, because he may come and thump me afterwards. It was clearly a useless attempt to pacify an authority that maybe complained. I do not know who that was—maybe Ofcom or the Advertising Standards Authority—but it is pathetically weak and totally inadequate.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, that the warnings about gambling are in no way strong enough or anywhere near or similar to those of the warnings of alcohol and cigarette smoke. The Government need to do something about stopping gambling television adverts that can be viewed by young people, the first being, although maybe not a solution, putting them after 9 pm, after the watershed. No dispensation should be made for football that is played in the afternoon as it is my belief that these adverts are the major culprits that induce young people to gamble. Frankly, they are too clever and too alluring.
I move now to the internet, which is a massive can of worms of opportunities for gambling online. I do not personally have a solution for this, other than to ask the Government to intervene and to get a bit heavy with the likes of Facebook, Google and others on removing adverts for gambling accessibility for young people. I know that it is easier said than done but, digitally, they can do it by ensuring that no gambling adverts are displayed until after, say, 9 pm.
It is a difficult task to police the internet, but the Government have to step in. I go back to cigarettes: Governments across the world have done quite a good job of warning people of the dangers of cigarettes. We do not see any adverts for them on TV, on street hoardings or in magazines—and I do not see any adverts for them flashing up in front of my face on my computer screen on the internet. This proves conclusively that internet providers and search engine providers can do it if they want. I urge the Government to do exactly the same in respect of gambling as they did for cigarettes. Gambling is an addiction. Gambling ruins family lives. Gambling incites criminal activity.