Dominic Lawson for the Daily Mail
When old friends meet up, pretty soon they ask how each other’s children are getting on. That’s how it went last week when I saw someone I’d known since our own schooldays.
But his face fell when I asked about his younger son, who’s now a teenager.
The boy had become hooked on online gambling. It had played havoc with his education, and money given him for food had fed only his addiction.
As this gambling was entirely online, the lad could play all night long. And he did — which meant he was shattered when he should have been doing his schoolwork.
Despair: The teenage son of a friend of Dominic Lawson has become hooked on online gambling, leaving his parents at a loss at what to do
This young man is highly intelligent, and probably thought he could outwit what he saw as his online opponents.
However, he couldn’t seem to realise that the entities on the other side of the ‘game’ were almost certainly algorithms designed to extract money in the most psychologically alluring way.
Hardly surprising, then, that his parents — successful people in their own fields—were in despair; at a loss what to do.
There was little consolation that I could offer, other than the observation that they were very far from alone.
For increasingly the gambling industry has been targeting children (though this is illegal, and of course it denies doing any such thing). It is a preying on the innocent — if children can be so described — that threatens to blight a generation.
Yesterday, the Sunday Times reported that, belatedly, the Advertising Standards Authority is to ‘examine whether cartoon games on gambling websites, such as the Fairytale Legends series and Santa Paws, target children’. But is it not completely obvious that such titles are specifically designed to pull in children?
On the medium of TV, gambling ads are supposed to appear only after the 9pm watershed — but how many teenagers are actually tucked up in bed by then?
And even this apparent red line is made meaningless by the fact that there is an exemption from the watershed rule on gambling ads during live sports broadcasts. So live coverage of football matches on channels such as Sky and BT Sport are saturated with ads by gambling firms.
Walking adverts: Roughly half of the teams in the Premier League have shirt sponsorship with betting firms. Pictured are Bournemouth’s Jermain Defoe and Everton’s Wayne Rooney
All the while, roughly half the teams in the Premiership turn their players into walking adverts for gambling by selling ‘shirt sponsorship’ to the betting firms.
How bizarre it is that firms selling cigarettes and booze are now excluded from any sort of sports sponsorship, while legislation passed under the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown opened up this market to the previously excluded gambling firms.
Bizarre, not least because gambling addiction is known to be harder to shake off than addiction to cigarettes or booze.
One man has made it his mission to get the law to catch up with this pernicious social evil. Peter Gummer, now ennobled as Lord Chadlington, made his fortune in the field of advertising and promotion, and so, as he says, understands as well as anyone ‘the techniques which are being used to “normalise” gambling among the young in the UK’.
On a mission: Lord Chadlington funded an opinion poll of teenagers to ask them their viewings about betting advertising
He has funded a unique opinion poll among young Britons about their exposure to gambling ads. He did this because all the research published in the UK about ‘problem gambling’ appears to be funded wholly or partly by the industry itself.
The poll of more than 1,000 14- to 18-year-olds shows that these children had indeed been exposed to a bombardment of gambling ads chiefly through watching football on TV, and that two-thirds of them thought it excessive. Three quarters thought the so-called ‘warnings’ in the ads were inadequate. More worryingly, when they were shown a Paddy Power ad now endlessly broadcast on TV, most said they felt it showed that gambling would be ‘fun’ to take up. Many added that they felt the ad showed gambling would be ‘a good way to make money’.
This is exactly the lie that the gambling firms want the public to believe.
As Chadlington points out, British laws on gambling are now much less tight than in the supposed Wild West (the U.S.).
This is reflected in the fact that since 2008, when UK gambling regulations were changed, Google searches here for ‘help with gambling’ have doubled. Whereas, in the U.S., where there’s been no such liberalisation, there has been no increase in such desperate Google searches.
In another English-speaking nation — Australia — politicians have acted. Their government has just brought in laws preventing gambling firms from extending lines of credit, thus blocking the pernicious offering of so-called ‘free’ bets to customers. And last year it banned the broadcasting of gambling ads during live sports programmes before the watershed.
In the UK, the new Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport, Matthew Hancock, is now in charge of this matter. Encouragingly, he appears ready to reduce the maximum allowable stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals at High Street bookies from £100 every 20 seconds to £2.
Dealing with this so-called ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling has been the main focus of our legislators’ concern.
Encouraging: The new Culture Secretary Matthew Hancock appears ready to reduce the maximum allowable stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 every 20 seconds to £2
Yet such a change would not address the particular problem of under-age gambling, since this takes place not on the High Streets but over the internet.
It is therefore an invisible scourge — invisible, that is, to everyone except the parents of children who have been sucked into this addiction.
Parents such as my old friend, who can’t quite believe what has happened to his son — a once-promising student now leading a vampiric nocturnal existence, transfixed not by blood but the illusory prospect of easy money.
Almost the saddest thing is that the boy thinks he’s having fun. After all, that’s what the adverts tell him.
Slippery speak from ‘straight-talking’ Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn was as slippery as any politician can be when he was questioned about his appearances on Iranian state TV during an interview with Andrew Marr
When the BBC’s Andrew Marr tried to raise Amnesty International’s report on human rights abuse in Iran with Jeremy Corbyn yesterday, the Labour leader’s instant response was: ‘You’re spending too much time reading the Daily Mail.’
This must have baffled viewers: what had that got to do with the question?
Undaunted, Marr then asked Corbyn why he had regularly taken money for appearing on that vile regime’s English language broadcaster, Press TV. ‘That was a very long time ago,’ Corbyn said dismissively. And he went on to insist that he had ‘ceased’ his paid contributions ‘after they behaved towards the Green movement the way they did’.
This was presumably a reference to the way the Iranian regime killed and tortured members of that protest movement when, in 2009, it staged demonstrations against the rigging of elections.
But what Corbyn told Marr is untrue. As his own parliamentary register of interests reveals, he was paid for Press TV appearances on five occasions between 2009 and 2012.
His final paid appearance for this propaganda arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran came six months after its British broadcasting licence was revoked for airing a forced confession by Maziar Bahari, a journalist for the American publication Newsweek: he had been tortured before agreeing to read out a script.
Later released, Bahari said that ‘many of these western politicians who appear on Press TV can be regarded as useful idiots. These are people who have a grudge against the U.S., or capitalism as a system, and, as a result, they embrace whoever is against the American government’.
That is an accurate description of Jeremy Corbyn.
But he’s not such an idiot that he doesn’t know how to dissemble about his broadcasting for Iran when asked about it in a BBC television studio.
Then the allegedly straightforward Corbyn is as slippery as any politician can be.