Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has defended Safer Gambling Week (SGWeek) against industry reformists who have mocked the nationwide campaign.
Last week, Will Prochaska, Strategy Director of Gambling With Lives (GWL), wrote a piece in Politics Home decrying the annual week-long initiative as a ‘cringe campaign’ dreamt up by the industry leadership to hide the damage done by betting products.
GWL warned MPs to pay no attention to SGWeek, which was branded as a yearly deception to deflect from the real issues of gambling harms.
Responding in his own Politics Home article this morning, Dugher condemned ‘anti-gambling prohibitionists’, stating: “Even if you don’t like betting, how can anyone be against safer gambling? What’s wrong with encouraging people to set limits on the amount of time or money they spend on betting?
“Who could possibly be against making sure people are aware of all the professional help and support services that exist for those who may be struggling, or for families worried that a loved one may be experiencing problems?”
Dugher added that problem gambling rates remain low and are falling – according to UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) data the rate declined from 0.4% to 0.2% – but that the BGC and wider industry ‘refuse to be complacent’ on driving standards and safe betting.
Safer Gambling Week features customer communications from the members of the BGC, Bingo Association and BACTA around safety tools, sources of information, advice and support, as well as staff training and problem gambling identification and support.
Measures in-place were criticised by Prochaska as attempting to shift the blame for gambling addiction from operators promoting the products to customers themselves. Gambling leadership was accused of adopting the same tactics as “the Sackler family pronounced on the opioid epidemic they caused”.
Dugher, however, has hit back by accusing campaigners of wanting to severely limit or even outlaw an industry which is enjoyed by millions of Britons safely each week.
He responded: “One minister once said to me that, “the more people tell me that they aren’t anti-gambling, the more convinced I am that they are!”
“As the government seeks to finalise its package of reforms, as part of a forthcoming white paper, I accept there are different views as to what changes people would like to see for the future.
“But surely only the most ardent of anti-gambling prohibitionists are actually against safer gambling? Whatever your views, Safer Gambling Week is important and should be supported by everyone.”
This is not the first time Dugher has used scathing words to bite back against criticism of the UK’s betting industry during the course of the Gambling Act review, notably ahead of the UEFA European Championships last year.
The build-up to the tournament saw, MPs such as Ronnie Cowan of the Scottish National Party (SNP) call for an end to betting advertising during the event, prompting ITV to ‘significantly reduce’ its number of commercials.
In response, Dugher stated: Of course, there will also be anti-gambling campaigners – Sunday school prohibitionists and the like – who will use any excuse to repeat their calls for banning advertising.
“But serious policy-makers have to deal in evidence, not excuses. The painful reality for those who don’t like betting is that their arguments simply do not stack up.”
The long-awaited ‘package of reforms’ referred to by Dugher in his most recent op-ed, meanwhile, may not be on the horizon anytime soon.
The White Paper on the Gambling Act review has been repeatedly delayed, and given ongoing political turmoil in Westminster as doubts surround Liz Truss’ premiership, the publication of industry reforms remains unlikely this year.