One of the things which is causing an increased level of frustration among Facebook users, is the number of adverts. These adverts are not, in themselves, at all surprising. Facebook may be free for most of us, but it exists to make money. As we don’t pay the bills, advertisers must.
The striking thing, however, is the number of adverts relating to online gambling. Should one wish, bets can be placed on horse racing, greyhound racing, football, rugby, cricket, motor racing, politics, reality television shows, and practically anything else you care to think of. And all from the comfort of … well, wherever you happen to be, as they encourage the downloading of a smartphone app. Or if you prefer, you can have yourself dealt into a virtual poker game. And why not? Who doesn’t want to win a little extra money? But, of course, most people don’t win a thing.
But just in case we don’t get the message on Facebook, those who watch football, including young children, will receive further encouragement to place their bets. Broadcasters, tournaments, and teams are sponsored by the gambling industry. It is becoming inescapable.
Of course, gambling isn’t new. But its ease and ubiquity are.
In 2005, the Blair government deregulated the Gamblin industry. The fear was that our towns and cities would be taken over by “super casinos”. But instead, the advent of the smartphone occurred. This meant that anyone could, while at work, or on a train, or at the pub, or in front of the television, or on the lavatory, or in bed, place bets with almost no effort, and win, or more probably lose, a fortune. Nobody risked being seen entering or leaving unsavoury-looking betting shops. Instead, a couple of taps on the phone could be a reply to a text from a colleague or the wife, or something to do with social media. Given the ease and the constant advertising, it’s hardly surprising that it became more and more popular.
Until three years ago, almost all users of these sites and apps were men. But a huge boost to the number of female gamblers came as a result of the pandemic. Like men, women quickly found that online gambling eased the boredom of the lockdowns.
All this is very concerning. Numerous people suffer because of gambling. Businesses are destroyed, marriages are wrecked, mental health suffers, and most tragic of all, people are driven to commit suicide. The UK gambling industry is the wealthiest of its kind in the world, being worth billions a year. During the 2021-22 financial year, the industry made 10 billion pounds,, about 6.4 billion being in online gambling. 75 per cent of the industry’s profits come from 5 per cent of gamblers. These are not people who have an occasional flutter on the Grand National or the FA Cup final. Nor are they the ones who, now and again, only put a couple of quid on the tightly regulated National Lottery, the profits of which are distributed to charitable causes. Rather, they are obsessive or compulsive users. In other words, addicts. Addicts whose finances are never checked, thus enabling them to lose thousands on bets they couldn’t afford to place.
I am, by no means, antigambling. I’m fortunate enough to be one of the lucky majority who can enjoy an occasional flutter. But having at one time been closely connected to a compulsive gambler, I am very conscious of the damage it can do. I feel, therefore, that the industry as a whole, but especially its online component, should be regulated far more strictly. A good start would be a ban on these companies advertising, and sponsoring sporting fixtures and teams. It happened with tobacco, and with alcohol. It should happen with gambling too.
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