Entertainment Television

Monday 16 September 2019

TV finally wakes up to epidemic of gambling addiction

  • Panorama (BBC1)
Ross Kemp (Ian West/PA)
Ross Kemp (Ian West/PA)
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Having written about it in this paper for many years, I am happy to see the recent surge in TV programmes about the online gambling phenomenon - though I am not so happy that it has taken so long for them to arrive, given that so much damage is already done.

It's probably just the time of year too, the start of the new Premier League season, which is bringing this new wave of awareness of the problem - last week the BBC's Panorama and Ross Kemp on ITV were at it, the previous week it was an hour-long BBC1 documentary, Can You Beat the Bookies? presented by funnyman Lloyd Griffith.

But there will be 50 other weeks in the year in which there will be very little of this nature on the telly, 50 weeks in which the betting corporations will be bombarding us with their hilarious promotions.

So this is not exactly an even contest here, but we will do what we can. The Panorama piece felt like something of a beginner's guide, but it made two important contributions - it told of the ways that addicted gamblers are encouraged by the bookies to keep betting, lavishly entertained by corporations that are supposedly committed to a regime of Responsible Gambling; and it validated this with an investigation which shows that 4pc of customers account for 78pc of industry revenue.

These corporations will insist they don't want addicts as customers, but as Problem Gambling Ireland has pointed out, the numbers prove that claim doesn't stand up, that "addiction is the lifeblood of the industry".

Indeed, anyone who has looked at this for any length of time has known this to be true, but it is significant that now the BBC knows it too - though there is unlikely to be much response from the industry, which is not inclined to engage in any meaningful way with reports from the dark side of their trade. They just put out more ads.

And they were assisted last week in their noble endeavours by the CEO of the Premier League who sounded quite relaxez-vous about it all, remarking: "We're not in a position yet where we have to intervene… betting is a part of what brings people into football."

Which is a good one, really, given that football used to be what brought people into football. And really, it should still be enough, given that it is the most popular sport in the history of the world.

The CEO is not seeing it like this, nor is he minded to "intervene", an interesting use of language here given the all-consuming obsession of the executive class in general with the undesirability of any "intervention" by the "nanny state".

Interesting timing too from him, with all these TV programmes giving us the impression that the time to intervene was maybe 10 years ago.

Ye gods, Mr Ross Kemp himself is all over it.

Ross Kemp Living With Online Gambling Addiction was the last of a four-part series in which Kemp looked at the underbelly of life in the UK, as he has looked at underbellies the world over. And, yes, he has found lives being ruined by gambling addiction, which for his many admirers should be case closed.

I merely question his assertion that "most of us manage to gamble responsibly", because while it may sound reasonable, at this stage we should be way beyond the concept of reasonableness, we should be treating this as an emergency.

And in emergencies, we don't usually pause to remark that this explosion or this earthquake or this inferno is pretty bad, but we should be grateful all the same that many of us have managed to avoid it.

Even someone as well-meaning as Kemp should eschew anything that minimises this global epidemic. But it is still good to have him on board, as we try to raise awareness, always it seems against the run of play.

We may not be winning but, unlike the authorities, at least we are showing up.

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