Britain's stroke against luck
A government review of betting laws is aiming at reducing problem gambling, a move that might also reduce a widespread belief in luck and put a focus instead on talent, skill, and discipline.
Soon after the pandemic hit Britain last spring, the government decided to prepare for a post-pandemic economy. It poured $1.5 billion into protecting startup companies, or entrepreneurs with the talent, skill, and discipline to spot new opportunities. The aid was also part of a plan to ensure Britain becomes better known for its “innovation economy” after leaving the European Union. On a global index for innovation, Britain already ranks fourth.
Now the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to help those in Britain who may need special help in tapping their talent, skill, and discipline. It wants to reduce the number of problem gamblers, or those who regard luck as a quick way to wealth. On Dec. 8, it announced the biggest shake-up of betting laws in 15 years.
The first step was to raise the minimum age for buying lottery products from 16 to 18 starting next year. The government itself, said Nigel Huddleston, minister for sport, tourism, and heritage, must ensure the National Lottery is “not a gateway to problem gambling.” About 1 in 20 children from ages 11 to 16 are considered either problem gamblers or “at risk.” Child gambling is plunging tens of thousands of families into a “tidal wave of misery,” according to an all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm. A gambling-addiction clinic dedicated to young people opened in London last year.
One possible plan is to cap gamblers’ losses to as little as £100 ($133) a month. This would force the betting industry to act more forcibly against gambling addiction. “The time has come for the industry to be made accountable for any damage it causes,” says Carolyn Harris, a Welsh Labour Party member of Parliament. More than a quarter of a million people in the United Kingdom are addicted to gambling. And perhaps because of the pandemic’s uneven effects on women, the rate of addiction for women is increasing at twice that for men.
Other ideas include tougher advertising regulations, restrictions on promotional offers, and safeguards in game design to prevent addiction. The government’s review of gambling rules might result in the industry paying more for addiction research and treatment. Only about 3% of problem gamblers are receiving treatment, according to the National Gambling Treatment Service.
The government’s plans are even more urgent because the gaming industry has shifted swiftly toward online play during the COVID-19 lockdowns. “This wide-ranging review is a long overdue opportunity to clean up our outdated gambling laws, which are incompatible with the smartphone era,” according to Matt Zarb-Cousin of the Clean Up Gambling campaign.
Britain’s hopes for its innovation economy will require a stronger emphasis on the country’s work ethic, creativity, and economic productivity. One path to solid growth includes helping all gamblers realize the false promises of luck and lifting problem gamblers out of debilitating addiction. Their future is brighter if they learn to value their own inherent merit and talent, the core resource for innovation.