Does Britain have a gambling problem?

Saturday 22 October, 14.00 - 15.30 , Pit Theatre Moral Dilemmas


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Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

Leicester City Football Club’s 2015-16 Premier League-winning campaign was labelled by many ‘the biggest sporting upset of all time’ and to no one does this ring truer than the bookies. With odds of 5,000-1 - the largest odds for a single event winner since gambling was legalised under the Betting and Gaming Act 1960 - the industry is estimated to have taken a £20 million hit on the Foxes’ march to the title. Stories of punters claiming winnings as high as £100,000 on a single bet seem the stuff of fairy tales in their own right. But despite the schadenfreude many felt at seeing the bookmakers with egg on their face, the bookies are still set to win out overall and may yet profit further from the hope inspired among sports fans that their team might be the next to ‘do a Leicester’.

Meanwhile, fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are making more money than ever and smartphone apps and web services have made it easier to gamble without the stigma some feel about going into betting shops. The UK betting industry not only survived the recession but positively thrived. Gambling has long been part of the cultural make-up of the UK with records showing significant popularity even before legalisation and ‘having a flutter’ on the Grand National has long been a quintessentially British tradition. But there is also growing awareness of the dangers of gambling ‘addiction’, with tragic cases like the suicide of the 23-year-old accountant Joshua Jones, which was blamed on the shame of online gambling debts. In recent years, FOBTs have been the target of the mid-market tabloids, angry at the fact that anyone can stake £100 on the spin of a virtual roulette wheel. Yet, others highlight such attacks as evident snobbery; why should the upper classes be able to stake massive sums in casinos, while the average Joe can’t be trusted with a £100 stake?

In an age when it’s easier than ever to have a cheeky flutter, should gambling be spoken of in the same breath as cigarettes, drugs and alcohol? Does the gambling industry need greater regulation? Can we still gamble responsibly? And is it the government’s job to care if we can’t - even if it means losing out on the healthy cut of the winnings it takes in tax? Is it up to the individual to make an informed choice? How much is too much? And when should the government intervene to say enough is enough? As problem gambling rates remain low, at what point do the needs of the few outweigh the free leisure time and choice of the many? Do we have a gambling problem?