A new crackdown on gambling has been launched to stop more people falling into the “crippling” trap of addiction.
Members of South Ribble Council’s licencing committee are so worried about the problem, that they are pioneering new head-on action with a range of measures.
They include requesting Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers remove pitch-side advertising for gambling, calling on the Government to stop 16-year-olds buying scratchcards, and working with Lancashire County Council to deter people from online gambling.
It comes after new research from the Gambling Commission showed seven per cent of 11-16 year-olds who had seen gambling adverts or sports sponsorships claimed that this had prompted them to gamble when they were not otherwise planning to.
Coun Barbara Nathan, chairman of the Licensing Act Committee at South Ribble Council, said although some issues required national rather than local change, the council was committed to “bang on doors and shout loud” for the local community.
She said: “We have been having some far-reaching and frank discussions about how we solve the ongoing gambling crisis which is crippling bank balances and crippling lives right here in South Ribble.
“Change in attitudes and an increase in awareness is something we are passionate about and dedicated to – so we will continue to be a leading voice, advocating tougher rules and stringent enforcement.”
South Ribble is the first council in Central Lancashire to make such moves to tackling the problem of gambling addiction, and the first in Lancashire to carry out spot checks for illegal underage gambling - which showed a 100 per cent failure rate in local betting shops tested.
Coun Paul Foster, leader of the South Ribble Labour Group, said he would “support any initiative to crack down on this problem”.
He said: “I have real concerns about online gambling, adverts and Fixed Odds Betting machines.
“It’s not just a central Government thing, if it’s affecting our local communities, then we have got to come up with something to tackle it.
“I won’t be told that there’s nothing we can do.
“Personally, I would have a ban on online gambling apps for under 21s.
“We need restrictions, because young people are getting inundated with messages about gambling, and it tends to be the people who least afford it who are most affected.
“I have heard about young men who have blown a week’s wages in an hour, chasing the goal of a big win. Then that affects mental health.
“We would do anything to protect our children from harm, well I would say that gambling is up there with drink and drugs.
“It’s crippling people, it’s far too quick and easy to lose all your money and for addictions to start.”
The latest annual survey by the Gambling Commission to explore gambling behaviour among young people in Great Britain, issued in November, found that 14 per cent of 11-16 year olds had spent their own money on a gambling activity in the week prior to taking part in the study. This is two percentage points higher than in 2017.
The most common gambling activities were placing a private bet for money with friends (six per cent), followed by playing National Lottery scratchcards (four per cent), fruit/slot machines in an arcade, pub or club (three per cent) and cards for money with friends (three per cent).
Amongst 11-15 year olds who say they play the National Lottery, tickets/scratchcards are typically bought in the company of someone aged 16 or older (73 per cent) and a parent/guardian usually hands over the money at the till (62 per cent).
Rates of online gambling were found to be relatively low, with only one per cent of 11-16 year olds spending their money to gamble online in the survey.
However, the survey found that not all online gambling among young people involves them spending their own money: six per cent of young people have gambled online using a parent or guardian’s account.
The Gambling Commission also found that 66 per cent of children asked had seen gambling adverts on the television, 59 per cent had seen them on social media and 53 per cent on other websites.
Forty six per cent had seen gambling sponsorships at sports venues, including on players’ shirts, and seven per cent of of young people who had seen such adverts or sponsorships claimed that this had prompted them to gamble when they were not otherwise planning to.
A spokesman for Preston North End said it had not yet been contacted by the council, adding: “Our current principal partner is 32Red, who are a responsible business within the gaming sector and we have no current plans to review our advertising policies.”
Blackburn Rovers declined to comment when approached by the Post.
Nearly 60 per cent of clubs in England’s top two divisions have gambling companies as shirt sponsors.
Preston North End announced a two-year shirt sponsorship deal with online casino 32Red, in June 2018. It replaced sponsorship by online betting company Tempobet.
In July 2018, Blackburn Rovers agreed a “seven figure” sponsorship deal with online sports betting operators 10Bet. Their logo will feature on the front of Rovers’ home and away shirts until 2021. The sponsorshop replaced that of Dafabet, who were the club’s shirt sponsors since 2015.
The council’s statement in full:
Coun Barbara Nathan, chairman of the Licensing Act Committee at South Ribble Council, said: “We have been having some far-reaching and frank discussions about how we solve the ongoing gambling crisis which is crippling bank balances and crippling lives right here in South Ribble.
“Specifically, comments were made about a range of issues including scratch cards, pitchside advertising at sports stadiums, and online gambling.
“We agree that closer examination is needed, which is why the Leader of the Council wrote to South Ribble’s Member of Parliament, Seema Kennedy.
“We understand, however, that we must operate within the national parameters set down by the Gambling Commission, the Advertising Standards Agency, and the Competition Markets Authority – so we must state, for the record, that they set down the legislation and there is only so much that we can influence or change.
“That said, a change in attitudes and an increase in awareness is something we are passionate about and dedicated to – so we will continue to be a leading voice, advocating tougher rules and stringent enforcement.
“For example, last September, we carried out six unannounced visits to licensed premises using underage volunteers instructed to attempt to play on the gaming machines.
“We found a 100 per cent failure in compliance with the law – with young children using gaming machines in plain sight of the pub’s staff and patrons.
“We have worked with the premises involved to adopt challenge polices (similar to the ones they already have in place for the sale of alcohol) and ensure that the same standards are applied to gambling products.
“Allowing underage gambling is unacceptable, which is why we will always arrange these spot checks to crackdown on this phenomenon which we find really concerning.
“We were the first council in Lancashire to begin this type of operation (working alongside the Gambling Commission), and others soon followed, so in that sense we like to think we are pioneering this movement of change within the gambling sector.
“Some of the ideas that were raised in meetings last year, we admit, were merely suggestions – for instance, current legislation exempts pitchside advertising, so there is nothing we can do to change this except write to football clubs and speak to the Gambling Commission, the latter of which we have done.
“Likewise, increasing the legal age at which you can buy a scratch card (from 16 to 18) is not in our power to introduce – however, we can bang on doors, shout loud, and write to our Member of Parliament to get her support, so we are very active in this area and our new Gambling Policy (2019-21) is a great document which reaffirms our dedication to protect young people from gambling and its dangerous, addictive nature.
“What we will do as the local authority for South Ribble is this: we will monitor betting shops, pubs and licensed premises to check that they comply with all the legislation.
“We will continue discussing ideas to tackle gambling addiction and underage gambling – with the best suggestions being forwarded to the relevant governmental bodies for consideration.
“We hope that, over the next few years, both nationally and in South Ribble, we will no longer be talking about gambling problems but talking about an industry which is properly regulated and safeguards vulnerable people.”
A Preston Council spokesman said: “Online gambling is prevalent in today’s society and, whilst not currently on the council’s action list, agenda setting for the coming year will take place following elections in May. In the meantime, we are watching with interest our neighbouring authorities to see how we could work together on this issue.”
A spokesman for Chorley Council said that online gambling fell outside its remit, and there were no new gambling initiatives being worked on.
Where to seek help
People can call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133.
The National Gambling Helpline is run by GamCare.
The Gambling Commission regulates online gambling. For more information, visit: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/for-the-public/Safer-gambling/Getting-help-to-control-your-gambling.aspx