Marc Etches: spreading the reach of responsible gambling

Marc Etches
Marc Etches

Marc Etches, Chief Executive of the Responsible Gambling Trust, the UK’s leading charity aimed at minimising gaming related harm, discusses the range of services open to problem gamblers and how the industry can ensure that the enjoyment of the majority does not overtake the wellbeing of the minority.

World Cup challenge

Next month’s football World Cup in Brazil is being touted by the gambling industry’s PR men as the biggest gambling event in history. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was talked up in a similar fashion and I imagine the story was much the same in 2006, 2002, and so on. Millions of pounds will be staked in the UK in betting shops and online and gambling advertising on commercial TV will be difficult to avoid.

For many, gambling will be just another way to get enjoyment from the World Cup. For a small minority, however, the temptation to gamble will present a significant personal challenge. The Health Survey for England published by the NHS in 2013 showed that 0.5% of people are considered ‘problem gamblers’. Amongst this group, individuals said that they sometimes gambled more than they could afford and experienced financial difficulties and health problems because of their gambling.

The challenge this summer – and a challenge which falls particularly on the gambling industry – will be to ensure that the enjoyment of the majority does not impinge on the wellbeing of the minority. Last month, together with colleagues, I marked the second anniversary of the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT). This independent charity was established in 2012 to fundraise for and commission research, education and treatment with the objective of minimising gambling-related harm.

Available services and support

I am immensely proud that the hard work of the charity’s trustees and staff has helped us to raise more than £6 million last year to fund a range of problem gambling services including the National Gambling Helpline, delivered by GamCare. The RGT also funds GamCare to provide a nationwide network of free counselling services as well as funding the Gordon Moody Association to provide residential treatment centres in the West Midlands and in Kent. A further grant supports the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust in providing the National Problem Gambling Clinic for those with the severest gambling-related problems.

None of these services should be taken for granted. Each benefits from the dedication and hard work of the people who staff them but they can only do their work with financial support. The public funds available for treatment for problem gambling do not reflect the level of commitment to other forms of addiction. The significant shortfall is met by donations from the gambling industry, all of whom are expected by the Gambling Commission to make donations to support responsible gambling. I’m pleased that so many in the industry make their contribution through the RGT and have little doubt that they are attracted by the opportunity to actively participate in the work of the charity. Unlike some predecessor bodies, the RGT seeks to include the gambling industry in the provision of responsible gambling.

We have learnt from experience that the industry will be more generous when they feel involved and that their involvement makes responsible gambling work more effective. The GambleAware brand which was developed by the RGT to raise awareness of problem gambling and how to access support for those that need it is featured at the industry’s expense in advertisements in betting shops, on billboards and on television. The research we commission into the way people behave when gambling is enhanced by the access to gamblers and data that the industry grants researchers. It is no exaggeration to say that the co-operation between the gambling industry and independent researchers in the UK is without parallel worldwide.

Research and independent focus

The RGT is well aware that this industry involvement will cause some to question how our research, education and treatment can put the interests of problem gamblers over those of the industry. As important as maintaining the involvement of the industry is sustaining the confidence of the government, the regulator and the public at large. We have robust governance arrangements which exclude vested interests from decisions which affect them, all of our meetings are open to the scrutiny of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board and the Gambling Commission, everything we commission is detailed on our website and we publish all research we commission in full.

The UK is setting the standard for promoting responsible gambling and the RGT’s funding gives stability to the many excellent treatment providers that we have in this country. It’s my wish that as each World Cup comes and goes the RGT’s presence will help to spread the reach of responsible gambling.

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