Worth the risk?

How much have you spent on gambling in the last year?

Seriously? According to the latest figures, we lost £500 per household in the 12 months up to September 2015. Or if you like big numbers, £12.6 bn. 

And that’s a 12% increase on the previous year! 

If you live in Chesham you’ll probably remember the shortlived Las Vegas arcade that is now the wonderful Thai Jasmine restaurant. I used to drop in from time to time to talk to the very bored and thankfully under-employed staff member there, to find out how business was going (‘Not so good?’ I would beam) and to assure them that I was praying that they would get a more fulfilling job.

Tempting to think that the shop closing down was a sign of the health of our town and a good thing. Yes and No. We are not flooded with the ‘crack cocaine of gambling,’ the fixed-odds beating terminals that allow punters in betting shops to risk up to £100 per spin every 20 seconds. But think about what has happened on the High Street more generally – we’ve moved online. So it is with gambling in our country, thanks in part to the Gambling Act 2005 which legalised the promotion of gambling through TV adverts.

There has been an incredible surge in online betting, as many warned at the time. Most of us who did complain were told, in so many words, not to be spoilsports and to let people spend their own money as they wanted. We were reassured that it would all be very responsibly done, and that there would be plenty of help for people who found themselves addicted or undone by gambling. Yet the many costs of gambling addiction and misuse are mounting and not very well-hidden. For example, gambling is now cited in no fewer than one in five uncontested divorce separations. The social and economic and personal costs are high and damaging, as anyone who has put up with a spouse’s gambling addiction will quickly tell you.

So are we likely to see any changes or restrictions? Don’t hold your breath! Online gambling is good news for the Treasury. The Fixed Odds betting terminals alone generated £425 m of tax revenue last year alone. We can presume the Treasury got a good sniff at the rest of the £12.6 bn too.

It does highlight the inconsistencies in our attitude to risk. Most of us have had occasion to complain about the crippling attitude to risk in the workplace or school playground that we fear stifles play, imagination and an enjoyment of the world. Yet we have a blind spot for financial risk – as we saw in the meltdown of 2008, see daily in the giant con that is the lottery, and we now find in the newly packaged, compulsive and intoxicating thrill of gambling. Do we really want our politicians to cash in on our gambling addiction?

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