At a time when both the national and personal debt in the UK increases, the nation's fix for gambling continues to grow. Here in Inverclyde our high streets are filled with an assortment of bookmakers all trying to entice the 'punter' into their shop to have a 'responsible flutter'. Much has been made in the press, and rightly so, about the rise in the use of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and the amount of money people can stake on one spin. These machines have been dubbed the crack cocaine of gambling, due to their addictiveness and the amount players can win/lose in an instant.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recorded that in 2013 the Total Weekly expenditure on 'Bookmaker, tote, other betting stakes' was £12m. This figure doesn't take into account the amount of money that has also been spent on, for example, lottery tickets and scratch cards.
Plainly, the country's love of gambling and betting is not waning, it continues to grow. Only today (16th Feb) Scottish Racing said about 308,000 people visited racecourses at Ayr, Hamilton Park, Kelso, Musselburgh and Perth - a seven year high. It's evident that people from all walks of life enjoy a bet and as long as it's done responsibly and within a financial budget then there shouldn't be anything wrong with this. The real issue is the other end of the scale and the people who are spending their monthly wages on betting and getting into more debt, through credit cards and bank loans, sometimes taking out loans with questionable individuals.
The ease with which someone can place a bet today is staggering. You don't have to leave the comfort of your home to place a bet these days. The bookmakers all have state of the art betting applications (apps) which at a tap of a button can allow a punter to place a bet on any number of outcomes on nearly any sporting or cultural event, such as the Oscars or Mercury Music Prize.
Action needs to be taken to further educate and support people who are gambling with regards to the misery it can cause for some individuals and their families. It is encouraging that bookmakers seem to be recognising the rise in problem gamblers and are taking much needed action to not only highlight responsible betting but also highlighting what help is available.
However, more can and should be done to support those whose lives have been affected by gambling. In 2010 a report was prepared to consider whether money from unclaimed winnings and dormant betting accounts should be used to fund improving sports provision. The report explained how unclaimed winnings and dormant accounts occur. It also explained what happens to unclaimed winnings/dormant accounts at present.
I believe aspects of this report should be acted upon and any money HM Treasury claims from dormant betting accounts should be given to good causes and also to help those individuals and families affected by gambling.
I have since raised the matter in Parliament by asking the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport whether the UK Government will take the report forward and look to obtain the money from dormant betting accounts. The response I received was both weak and lacked empathy. I've now written to the UK Government urging the Department for Culture to finally address this issue and discuss the matter with the Association of British Bookmakers and other interested parties so we can hopefully make a positive difference to a great number of people's lives.
Gambling addiction blights communities and households across the country. Therefore, it is right that those high street betting operators who profit from gambling should help tackle the problem of addiction.
Rather than bolstering profit margins this unclaimed money could instead be put to good use and help make a positive difference to people's lives.
This post first appeared on www.ronniecowan.com