Revealed: £1.9bn surge in gambling as desperate Brits try to bet their way out of recession

by Atul Hatwal

As George Osborne’s economic vice gets ever tighter, new HMRC figures show that struggling Britons gambled £1.9bn more than last year. It follows two years where the total amount gambled actually fell.

Based on government receipts from the duties levied on gambling since the start of this financial year, the projections for 2011/12 are of another big increase, by £3.5bn to £48bn.

This is the first time since government records began in the mid-1990s that gambling has risen while household incomes have fallen.

Earlier this year, a major survey by the gambling commission found that nearly three-quarters of Britons – 73% – had gambled in the past year, up from 63% in 2007 when the survey was last conducted.

Most worryingly of all, the numbers with a problem gambling habit was estimated to have risen to 451,000, an increase of 5% since 2007.

When in opposition, David Cameron was quick to position himself as an opponent of gambling.

In 2007 he over-ruled his shadow chancellor in opposing the Labour government’s plans on casinos and led the Tories in a U-turn on their previous commitment to support the proposals.

In the House of Commons, he was clear that his fears on problem gambling were at the heart of his concerns. Following the awarding of a super-casino for Manchester he said,

We congratulated Manchester, because we thought the review had been conducted properly, but then we found out that the decision to put it in Manchester, they hadn’t looked at really important issues, like will this encourage problem gambling”?

The current minister responsible for gambling, John Penrose, couldn’t have been clearer in his views in an EDM he tabled in 2006 on the problems of gambling addiction in his local area,

“I don’t want to see one form of addiction – drugs, being replaced by another – gambling”.

But since those early days in opposition, the Tories have adopted a very different approach.

In June, they announced a relaxation of some of the last Labour government’s gambling restrictions, despite opposition from charities and religious groups.

The new policy will allow owners of bingo halls and amusement arcades to increase the number of “B3” slot machines by 20%.

The gambling commission study highlighted that 9% of the increase in problem gambling was associated with slot machines and even the government’s own assessment stated,

Additional category B3 gaming machines could pose a threat to the licensing objective of the gambling act and in particular the protection of young people and the vulnerable from the harm that can be caused by problem gambling”.

John Penrose’s defence was that more slot machines would help boost seaside town’s economies. Presumably the greater the increase in gambling on the extra machines, the bigger the economic benefit to the town.

How this new approach squared with the Tories’ earlier heartfelt concerns about gambling remains unclear.

By pure coincidence, in recent years the Conservative party has been the recipient of a string of major donations from businessmen who have made their fortunes through gambling.

Michael Spencer owns financial spread-betting firm City Index and donated over £800,000 to the Tories through his private investment company. He was rewarded with a stint as Tory treasurer and is currently chairman of the Conservative foundation.

Then there’s Peter Cruddas, owner of another financial spread-betting firm, CMC markets. He has given about £350,000 to the Tories over the past two years and was a key funder of the “No to AV” campaign.

In June this year, Peter Cruddas was also appointed as a treasurer of the Tory party.

When David Cameron talked about broken Britain recently, he was referring specifically to the rioters. But as gambling soars and hospital admissions related to drinking hit new highs, a different picture is emerging.

That of a country driven to drink and gamble in a recession caused by the casino of the financial markets and run by a party funded from the profits of spread-betting.

This picture isn’t about the feral few, but the experience of millions of Britons.

Despite all of sound and light emanating from Number Ten on morality, it remains an experience about which the prime minister remains steadfastly silent.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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5 Responses to “Revealed: £1.9bn surge in gambling as desperate Brits try to bet their way out of recession”

  1. Nick says:

    Same mentality as those who think you can borrow and spend your way out of a debt crisis.

  2. swatantra says:

    The first thing they could do is stop online gambling and telephone gambling, and the ads on TV seducing the vulnerable poor into parting with their money.
    The harmless lottery has spread into the more murkier aspects of gambling addiction, and people are betting on virtually any event happening.
    I was watching the EUFA Arsenal match and up pops a betting ad on who scores the next goal. In that case they were right and if you had placed a bet you could have won a tidy sum. But the odds are usually against winning.

  3. Atul

    You should probably have a think about some of the gambling operators who fund the Labour Party as well before you start with your ridiculous diatribe

    You should also think about the jobs and revenues that the gambling industry provide

    You should also consider that without a properly licensed and well regulated gambling industry like we have – there would be a massive illegal gambling problem and all the crime and corruption that comes with that

    You should also do a bit more research into your statistics – since the introduction of the National Lottery in 1994 by the John Major government but recommended by the 1978 Rothschild Commission – three quarters of the British public have always gambled. As a nation we have been gamblers since time immemorial

    If you had properly read the National Gambling Prevalence Study you would have read that “The proportions [of problem gamblers] increased from 0.5% of the adult population in 2007 to 0.7% in 2010 (which is not statistically significant) on one measure and from 0.6% in 2007 to 0.9% in 2010 (which is at the margins of statistical significance) on the other measure used. These rates are similar to those in other European countries (Germany, Norway and Switzerland) where this has been measured and are lower than countries like the USA, Australia and South Africa.”

    The Tory government – of whom I am no supporter- has done practically nothing for the gambling industry so to accuse them of liberalising is pushing the truth. Increasing numbers of slots in bingo halls is hardly threatening the moral fabric of this nation. The people who go there are there to gamble, are in a well regulated environment and are there to enjoy themselves.

    I cant talk about alcohol abuse as that is not my area of expertise but are you suggesting that the British public a) didn’t gamble or drink under Labour? or is it more sinister than that and you don’t think they should drink or gamble at all? No one forces anybody to gamble but if they do, the UK is one of the best countries in the world to do it as we have some the strictest regulations and most comprehensive problem gambling prevention measures in the world.

  4. Keith says:

    Remember Atul that it was New Labour who did more to encourage gambling than any previous government by Brown’s removal of gambling tax and the like. This resulted in a huge rise in online betting on Blair and Brown’s watch. I am no Tory supporter, but to suggest that the current government is to blame for the rise in gambling is patently untrue.

    During Labour’s 13 years of office, their enthusiasm for gambling became another emblem of the “get something for doing nothing society” just like the rises in house prices during the credit boom. It’s a pity nobody in the Labour cabinet at the time had the courage to tell the public that, like the rise in house prices, gambling can also have a very severe sting in the tail.

  5. Good grief. The old Labour puritanical streak turns up in the unlikeliest of places.

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