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The Guardian. Hello and welcome to The Guardian Football Weekly. A few weeks ago, we discussed whether it was OK for someone in the media to accept work from a bookmaker. We talked about the increase in commodification of football and asked whose responsibility it is to regulate the industry and to help people who've become addicted. Lots of you got in touch, including someone who's overcome a serious addiction and is still dealing with the consequences of it.
But despite that is helping others who found themselves in the same situation on this pod will speak to him. The Guardian's gambling expert and the chair of the Betting and Gaming Council to find out what each of them think is right and wrong with the industry.
And that's today's Guardian Football Week.
On the panel today, Barry Clendenning, Habas and Filipo Clare, hopefully. Hello, Max. All right, let's get on with this.
Firstly, we're going to hear from James Grymes. He was a gambling addict for 12 years. He's now two and a half years into his recovery. In 2019, he founded the big step to change the narrative around gambling in football. He works with the charity Gambling with Lives, which was set up by bereaved families of young people who took their own lives as a result of their addiction. He got in touch with the pod after we discussed me signing up with a bookie a month ago.
Barry and I chatted to him yesterday.
Well, James, thanks so much for coming on. How are you doing? Yeah, very well, thank you. Thanks for the invite. It's a pleasure. Explain to us why you got in touch with us.
So I saw your predicament, Max, and I listen to you guys talk over. I'm a listener of the podcast anyway. So obviously my is a bit because I'm a recovering gambling addict first and foremost. And I'm sure we'll talk about I've set up a campaign that tries to break this ever close relationship between gambling and football and I think in the nicest possible way. That example was one of the reasons why we need to do that. And the conversation that you had was I think it was pragmatic, but I thought I'd try and get in touch to see if there's more that I could add to the to the argument.
Sure. It was pragmatic. Were we right or would be wrong just to just to sort of surmise this came up because I started working for a betting company and the social media reaction was pretty bad. And so I talked about it with Barry and with Jonathan Wilson and with Phillipe. And I think the conclusion we came to was that it was probably OK. But I don't know if that was everyone just being nice to me because we're all friends now.
It probably come as no surprise that I don't think the conclusion you came to is right, even though it was pragmatic. I don't think it's a full of your own. I think it's a full of light touch regulation that has allowed this as the same problem with you, Max, as it is with football clubs as well. Football clubs struggle to turn down this money because it's obscenely higher than a lot of other ones. And I think Jonathan talked about it's better to do this and have unregulated companies that are advertising.
I do agree, but I don't think we should let perfect be the enemy of the good if we accept the principle that this is a dangerous addiction, which I obviously know is, then what excuse is that to promote it to it, to anyone?
Tell us about your your gambling addiction. Yeah.
So I, I started gambling. Like many people, my place is small, casual bets on football. I was a football fan first and foremost, and I trusted football and I trusted the messages that football told me. So if people within football, my favorite clubs were telling me to use this product, I had no realization that there was a risk attached to it. And I did. And I think I was part of a generation now coming through and something where we feel like we have to have a bet on to watch the football.
And yeah, to be honest, it took everything from me and not just money. Money is obviously the thing that has the most practical damage, but the legacy it has with harm on my mental health. It took away my freedom, my independence, it took away relationships and trust, and it took me to the brink. To be basically honest with you, I've got some real horror stories.
It started with, you know, not being able to watch a football match of our own. And then towards the end, my dad was terminally ill in hospital when I'm sitting next to his bedside and his last days watching a roulette ball go round and round. And it just shows that this is the power of the products. This isn't a fault of the few individuals. This is a large scale problem because we're allowed in allowing this addictive product to be sold as much as possible.
And yeah, as I say, it destroys pretty much every in my life. I still live that legacy. Now, I actually managed to stop, but it's obviously quite important to emphasize that some people don't stop when the fun stops as estimated to be a gambling related suicide every day in this country, which obviously resonates with me. And it's heartbreaking. And I think it's a shame as a complete shame on our nation that we've allowed that to happen with the regulation that we have.
James, can I ask, do you remember your first beer and do you remember the bet you put on where you kind of thought, I'm in trouble here, this is getting out of control?
I think I am actually quite rare because a lot of gamblers say they have that big first win and they remember that first big win. I think I did 12 a dwindling of all the money I ever had, to be honest. And I remember the first time I had access to online gambling. And this is probably the wrong thing to say. But I was amazed how easy and accessible and available was everything that I wanted to do. My brain was screaming out to me to gamble.
And all of a sudden I got this thing that saying to me, You can bet on any sport anywhere in the world.
And if I could play devil's advocate, James, I like bet. I bet reasonably frequently. I probably lose more than I win, but I don't never feel compelled to have a bet and I can quite happily take it or leave it. Obviously you weren't in the same position, but is it not a case that at some point gambling addicts have to take responsibility for their own actions, that it's not necessarily the fault of betting companies, that they feel compelled to bet?
Say, you know, you can't blame the barman because someone has a drink problem. No, but you can blame the government that allows Obama to sell a ridiculous amount of beers to that person. So I think the answer is yes, there is a responsibility on the individual. I have to take responsibility to stop gambling. And I take responsibility on a daily basis to stay stopped. But I don't think there's enough responsibility on the other side of the argument.
You can't say it's all one person's failure, but I think there has to be accountability, responsibility. And that that just traditionally hasn't been I don't think I work with Paul Merson a lot.
And obviously, he's you know, he's been through it with gambling and with with drink as well. And what he said was, you know. You can't hide a drink problem or a drug problem, but you can't hide a gambling problem. Yeah, and it is one that is probably the most hidden addictions. That's why I think it has the suicide risk attached to it, because people don't know that it's happening. None of my friends knew that I was, like, crying myself to sleep because I'd lost all my money on Vietnamese football, that they wouldn't know that.
And because you can also manage it and you can manage the emotions on the outside. And that's the as I said, that's why has that suicide risk. But I think that's changed. I think more and more people being open about what gambling addiction is doing to them do doing to their families. So it should come as no surprise that people are banging on governments and industries door to try and do something about it.
Do you have any ideas of how much you lost and how much you borrowed?
Yeah, I operate within about a quarter of a million. I lost one hundred thousand pounds, I think. And I want to emphasize I was never in a well-paid job. This was during university. This is part time football coaching. And not at any point did a gambling company asked me, can you afford to do this? Is this your money? And I think that's the crux of the problem.
Did you ever say to a gambling company, because we've heard one of the problems is that people say they're addicted or say they want gambling companies to leave them alone and they don't. Do you ever say, can you leave me alone? Yeah.
And I've got live chat logs of being on customer service. Chat to a company that won't name saying if you don't give me this free pound, five pound free bet, I'm going to kill myself. I've got no money to eat this week and three days later I'm back on their side. I'm going to lose seventeen thousand pound on that on that side.
And you know this. There needs to be due accountability ability. At the end of the day, we can't be naive that there are profit making machine, that their priority is taking money off people. But unfortunately, a large percentage of that money comes from people like me. It comes from people suffering gambling addiction and gambling harm.
And James, there are have been instances of pokies getting fined for grooming problem gamblers, for basically assigning them a big brother to, you know, encourage them to gamble and point out offers. There was a famous case in Ireland of a post office manager who gambled 10 million euros. The company he was betting with, they they must have known he couldn't have that kind of money. He was he was skimming from the, you know, his employers stealing from them to fund his habit.
He ended up in jail, but they used to offer him trips to football matches, trips to the derby, wining and dine, and just to encourage him to keep gambling. Was that something you encountered? Yeah.
And coincidentally, very as well. Tony O'Riley, who the book is about in My Lowest Level of Misery, which is my last four days of gambling. I came across this documentary on YouTube, Tony Ten, and he was one of the main reasons why I stopped gambling. And that story offered like so much hope, because this is just a nice ordinary bloke that had been put through this and showed that there was hope available. And he is an inspiration to me.
I would encourage everyone to read his story and his story was quite similar to mine, but not in the sheer scale of his, obviously. But yeah, I had a company that sent me to a Premier League VIP box for six weekends in a row, and all that did to me was to find my own head to what I was doing was normal a completely glamourized an illness. If you if you're a Premier League football match in the VIP box off the back of a betting company, there's a reason for that.
And the reason is they want you to carry on using their site. And that's the only reason. How did you turn it around? Well, Tony O'Reilly story was massive.
It came from a I don't like to use the word rockbottom because as I said earlier, than there's a suicide every working day from gambling addiction. Their rock bottom is unfortunately death. And I had nowhere else to turn. Basically, I'd exhausted every single Borin option. I was, as I said, cried myself to sleep. And it was either as drastically as it sounds, the worst thing imaginable or try and do something about it. And I did.
I started being honest with myself about what I was doing, not just to my wallet, but to my mental health, and then said the same things to my mum and said the same thing. So about me and my employer and aside, I realised it was a massive weight on my shoulders, off my shoulders. And then it was it was a case of using practical measures like self exclusions and blocking tools. But it's not easy. I couldn't watch football for months without wanting to put a bet on it.
And the legacy of the harm doesn't go away just because you stop betting by saying, well, I've got as well. I started getting knowledge about the dual accountability thing, that this industry did fail me on occasions and actually once I started to get that knowledge. Understanding, I've convinced myself I don't want to give them another penny, they don't deserve another penny of my money or another ounce of my mental health. So I'm now two and a half years without gambling and can emphasize that life is infinitely better.
Tell us about the big step. So the big step came from my own experiences as a football fan.
I believe that football does have a responsibility to do a lot more than it's currently doing. Initially was going to be a fundraising walk for a charity called Gambling With Lives, Gambling with Lives, a charity set up by bereaved families of young men who took their own life as a result of gambling addiction. And we walk to football clubs that have gambling sponsorships, and it just shows the scale of the problem. I think that we've done three walks and visited twenty four clubs in this country over the last 18 months.
As it's gone on, I've realized actually there's an appetite to do this on a full time basis with education and awareness as well. And yeah, we've we've got we've had a petition we've signed onto the signed letter into Boris Johnson. Yes. Here. But I imagine he's been quite busy.
And I think the response we get from football is we're not doing anything wrong with complying with regulation. So I've come to a point now where actually this isn't a for football. Our campaign is now to try and get government to do something about this.
What should they do? They should end the sponsorship, advertising and promotion in football, I think equivalent to how tobacco advertising is no longer permitted. I think we have to consider the fact that one point four million gambling addicts in this country, YouGov estimate, is that this is a public health issue and we have to treat it the same as tobacco. And football should be a social a positive social vehicle vehicle to do so much more to protect and support communities.
And it has this one blind spot. It does so much good football, but it has this one blind spot with gambling where it's just so easy to take this money. And what I would urge football clubs to remember this money isn't sustainable, healthy money. This is money from gambling harm. This is money from debt, from crime, from sometimes suicide. Is that the way we want our football to be financed? I don't I don't think it is, James.
I've made the point before that it's practically impossible to work in sports media without taking the bookie down at some point or other. And people have accused me of being a hypocrite then for speaking out against the pernicious influence of gambling on football. And they probably have a point. And when I say that, it is impossible to say, well, then don't work in sports media, quit, get another job, which isn't practical for me. And if I did that, I would lose my income and struggle to get another job because I can't really I'm not qualified to do anything.
So how do I wrestle with that quandary? Very difficult.
And you know this. They've created this dependency. So so people are in that position. So football clubs are in that position, which is which is unfair. But I suppose the thing is they made the same scaremongering dependencies about the tobacco industry and sports media didn't collapse. Sports clubs didn't collapse. Sports leagues didn't collapse. And yeah, it's very difficult. I don't have any I don't make any judgement on anyone that takes gambling money. I think what we have to do is try and raise awareness of where this comes from.
And yeah, it's not this is why I keep coming back to the point. It's not going to be for individuals or one football club like Tranmere Rovers who do explicitly reject government sponsorship to effect this. This is going to be something that has to be across the board. And then you wouldn't be in situations like that very finely.
If anyone listening is struggling, what would your message be to them?
It would be to be honest with yourself and to not blame yourself. Don't think that you are weak, that you are incapable of setting controls and setting limits. Part of the reason this is happening is because we have addictive products sold to you wherever, whenever, however, and people want to help you. The support and treatment out there. The NHS Northern Gambling Service offers addiction specialist addiction treatment and you can watch football without having the best game is better without a baton and urge everyone to really be honest with you, with what government is doing to young people in society and think about the long term effects of that.
Thanks so much for coming on. Thanks for getting in touch. We really appreciate it. And good luck with the big step if people want more information about that.
But just Google, the big step is they Google the big samples and have a look at gambling with lives as well.
But thanks for your time, James. Thanks very much.
James Grimes there will include a link to both the big step and gambling with lives on the episode page at The Guardian dot com will also include a link to the NHS page for gambling addiction, which has a list of organizations to contact if you have concerns about you or a loved one, Philippe. I know you listen to that this morning, your reaction after listening to it? My reaction was that I needed to perhaps listen to it again and spend a bit of time thinking about it, because a bit almost a bit ashamed to say that's the first time that I've really listened to somebody who's been through that hellish so that circle of hell and that the way that James talk about it, the I mean, he's very calm eloquence certainly made me think a little bit about my own involvement, which is direct and indirect with the football, the football industry and therefore the betting industry.
And that it's not very often that you get a chance to to hear somebody talking that way.
And, you know, I'm a bit for words because to be honest, I was really quite I wasn't shattered by the interview, but I was really, really deeply impressed. And, yeah, it's going to make me think even more about what I already thought was a huge problem area for football, which concerns all of us. Like everybody was working in football, like you, Max, like you probably would have had to. We have an involvement in this and hearing what he had to say.
I still think that is possible, just like it's possible for, you know, to regulate. The industry in such a way that we can avoid most, but probably not all of what can be the consequences of gambling, but I must say I'm shaken. I'm shaken by it. And I would imagine you are a bit shaken yourself.
Yeah, I think that moment was when he was talking about being on a roulette wheel on his phone while his dad was dying in front of him is. That that really hit me, I think, yeah, I I thought it was a very powerful interview and my jaw dropped on on numerous occasions. That was one of them. And I thought it was very brave of James to come on and tell his story and tell it so well. And I'm sort of thinking about it there.
But for the grace of God go I because I like a bit I have quite an addictive personality. I drink too much coffee. I can't give up fags for love or money. I drink too much booze. But gambling is the one thing I've never been addicted to. I've never felt compelled to have a bet, but it could so easily be me. It's probably a selfish thing to take hours of listening to that chat, but yeah, there but for the grace of God go.
I know. I really hope his recovery continues. And if you are struggling, as I said, we'll put those websites on their Facebook page as well, the Samaritans can be contacted on one one six, one, two, three. You can email Joe Joe at Samaritan's Dog. Other international help lines can be found at Dot B Friends dot org. You'll find both links for those on the Facebook page of The Guardian dot com. After the break, The Guardian's gambling expert, Rob Davies will join us to lay out the extent of all of this.
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Welcome two of The Guardian weekly. Let's bring in Rob Davis, Gardian, business reporter specializing in gambling. Hey, Rob, how you doing? Not too bad. Thank you, Max. Thanks so much for coming on. Ah, you've written extensively, you know, articles and articles and articles about how closely linked football and gambling have become. How serious a problem do you think it is? Well, I mean, it depends if you think it's a problem, I suppose, but in terms of how inextricably linked they are, I mean, the game is essentially drenched with gambling in a way that I don't think it was when I was growing up in the mid 90s when you had things like the pools, you also had a bit of betting in the bookies, but you didn't have online betting, which is what you've got nowadays.
If you look at the sponsorship of shirts of the top 44 clubs in English football, 26 of them have a betting sponsor on the front of their shirt. And those deals can be worth 10, 15 million pounds a pop. And just to give you an example of how much money there is involved, even for the smaller sponsorship deals. I was looking at a court case recently and Liverpool's training kit attracted a 15 million pound sponsorship deal over three years.
And that's just the training they turn up at the ground in. Let's take an average match day, for instance, the number of times that a football fan interacts with gambling, well, it's essentially non-stop throughout the day. So I myself did a bit of a thought experiment with this the other day, thinking about a day in the life of the match going fan. First of all, you got the TV and radio adverts, which we all know about.
The kids might be playing with a stick. A book, a panini sticker book of a stack of books are available, but those will have five or six different shirts on the front with players. And each of those shirts quite likely will have a betting sponsor. You've got the podcast's in the fan TV channels that are all sponsored by gambling companies. You've got whole stands at the ground. I think Burnley have a Ladbrokes stand stoke, obviously have the bet 365 stadium.
When the teams are read out at Tottenham. I'm at Tottenham fan the the teams are read out and that's sponsored by William Hill. You've got betting clubs all over the all over the shirts. You've got adverts all the way round the side of the ground.
I mean, even if the kids are getting home in the evening and playing FIFA, you know, the clubs have got their logos on the shirts, on the computer games.
So it's essentially endless.
It's important to say The Guardian itself doesn't have a blanket ban on advertising for sports betting. It says it reviews requests on a case by case basis.
I guess that the sort of flip side, Rob, is that if you if you took the gambling money out of football, especially at a time when football is really struggling, why we're talking about the big picture in AFL clubs. And obviously, you know, the AFL is sponsored by Sky. That is, if you took that out, what would happen to football?
Yeah, I mean, that's a really good point. I mean, I think that leads to something a little bit broader, which is how is the large amount of money in football distributed? I mean, there's no shortage of money in the game, right? It's just about where that money's going. And what's quite interesting, if you look at the very richest clubs, they don't actually have the need for gambling sponsorship in the way that the smallest ones do.
And the big six clubs typically are not sponsored by a gambling company because there's such big enterprises that even the gambling companies can't afford to sponsor them. You know, you're never going to see a gambling company on the front end Manchester United shirt. There isn't a gambling company that could really spend that kind of money. You're going to get a much bigger company doing that.
So essentially there is enough, in my opinion, anyway, there is enough money in the game to support local clubs. It's just that as we know, it's concentrated at the top.
So if you were to reduce the amount of gambling sponsorship there was in the lower leagues, yeah, you would have to find money from somewhere else to support those clubs. But I wouldn't say that that money isn't there. That money is there. It's just not being shared.
I mean, I think it's fair to say everyone thought when cigarette advertising was pulled out of Formula One that that would go belly up. It has survived it. It continues to thrive, doesn't it? Yeah, absolutely. And the thing you've got to remember is if that money went away, that doesn't then suddenly reduce to zero, right. That gambling company won the bidding to be a sponsor, but it won it over somebody else. If they paid 15 million, then there was somebody else willing to bid, say, 12 or 13 million.
That might not be a gambling company. So, yeah, there might be less money in the game, but it would be possible, in my opinion, to find it from somewhere else. Obviously, that's a hard sell for some of those clubs that are really on the brink of survival.
But I mean, as has been talked about this week, there are other ways to share the money around. Before we get into sort of specifics of companies here, Philip, you've mentioned in the past about this being a global thing, and it's not just the regulated gambling companies that are in the U.K. and it's something we probably need to investigate in a whole other podcast.
But can you just briefly outline that global influence?
I would say that's the one way to to outline to highlight it is to look at the fact that, for example, Premier League clubs and I think almost all of them, if not all of them, have got existing relationships with what they call their Asian betting partner. And obviously, the nexus of of gambling and betting in the world is more Asia. It's Singapore, it's India, it's China. Even though gambling is illegal in China, in mainland China, you can still access online betting sites.
And in fact, almost all of the major betting operators and I'm talking about operators which make some of the British operations look like corner shops are based in the Philippines, in Manila, in the market, in Makati quarter. And almost every single primally club has an existing relationship with those. I mean, I'm not going to go through that.
But for example, Manchester United is with the Abu Dhabi. Manchester City was with a company called Kaifa Colocated Dotcom. I'm sure you've never heard of these guys. Leeds United is BOBETTE, which was also the sponsor of West Ham and of Citi a while ago.
And Sbobet is a company that doesn't even exist in the UK as such. It is actually solely their sponsoring for the Asian market, but also for people who will be able to access them online or through agents. So we're talking about a market, Max, which is worth about one trillion dollars a year. Now, I'm not saying that this one trillion is solely bet on football. What I'm saying is that football is the number one betting thing. And I'm not talking about what is called illegal betting that you you see sometimes some small shops like in India where you can put stuff, you know, money on cricket or something.
And I'm talking about operations, which are all of them online operating often in cryptocurrency and which are actually sponsoring the game here. So this relationship is very difficult to see the problem as something which is specifically related to a particular country, England or any other country. These operators are you know, they operate all over, all over the world. I mean, for example, lakebeds, who are Bonaly sponsor, are also the official Asian betting partner of Paris, Agema.
Which is quite crazy when you think that Paris is owned by a country in which gambling is actually a criminal offense, but there you go.
So if so, if this is all the case, then Rob, does it almost does it matter how well regulated it is here? That that does seem to be the sort of crux of this, that we want to have a legal gambling industry. We want people to be able to bear and have fun with it, but we want it to be so well regulated. That's still that's still matters, doesn't it?
Even if there is a global issue to. Yeah, of course, I mean, it depends if you're a government, for instance, it depends who you're trying to protect and if the British government, obviously, your interest is going to be in British citizens and those among them who might be considered vulnerable. I mean, you know, as Phillip points out, those a lot of those global betting companies are not too interested in the British market. Right.
They're just trying to find a platform to show off their brand. And there are billions of eyeballs all over Asia. And they can reach those eyeballs by advertising in the Premier League because it's the most popular league in the world.
I mean, you would actually find I think that a lot of the major betting companies in the UK wouldn't be all that sad about a ban or say on shirt sponsorship, because a lot of them are not too interested in that. If you're Ladbrokes or you're Paddy Power, your visibility in the UK is pretty big already, right? You've got high street shops, you've got TV advertising, you've got other ways to reach a British audience, whereas your competitors, maybe not so much the Asian betting companies, but perhaps somebody of the order of 30 to read or 888 somebody of that size, they don't have quite the same visibility.
So so to them, sponsoring football is really, really important. So I have a little suspicion that over time you might find that the the larger British players actually line up behind a ban on sponsorship of of certainly football shirts anyway, because they've got the least to lose by that.
And in fact, some of their competitors have much more to lose. So I think this has got quite a long way to play out.
Can we talk about the the VIP gamblers? This is one of the most troubling things, I think, that we heard from from James. I've heard about it before. The idea that, you know, these high stakes gamblers get wined and dined and, you know, in some cases their sort of handler, certainly in previous years would almost like a cut of their losses as a way of their income. But how big a problem is this? And do you think that the gambling industry are doing enough to stop it happening?
I mean, you're absolutely right about the VIP handler, the manager getting a cut of their losses. I mean, that that that plays out in a number of different ways. But quite often it will be a percentage of their lifetime losses. And in the most extreme cases, that life lifetime is cut short. By suicide, I mean, VIP handlers are a pretty common feature of the gambling industry. It's something that the regulator has been looking at recently and alongside the industry, actually, and has brought in some measures that supposedly crack down on it.
But they're pretty weak, if you ask me. I mean, the thing that I found is the horror stories that I've heard of. The common denominator is almost always some kind of VIP scheme, because when you create that incentive, when you've got a VIP manager or whatever else, they might be called a relationship manager who is incentivized to get somebody to keep betting. Well, the lengths they will go to are often quite extraordinary. They'll be sending them presents at Christmas.
They'll be as you've heard, James was wined and dined. But I mean, I've heard of people who spent a lot more than James, who, you know, they might be flown out to to watch a Grand Prix or they might be, you know, taken to the FA Cup final or whatever it might be. You know, the incentives there are clear for the VIP managers if they're getting a cut of those losses. Well, essentially, they call you a VIP.
But what they mean is you're a mug because you're somebody that they know loses a lot of money and who they can take some of that money from. And there was a startling figure from the Panorama, Don, on gambling, I think it was last year, maybe the year before that 78 percent of the revenue from online gambling comes from four percent of the customers.
I mean, that seems absolutely shocking. Yeah, I think I know the original source of that figure, which might have been a Guardian story, if I'm not mistaken, but yeah, it depends on the company, of course.
Right. They all have different business models.
But I did a Freedom of Information request last year looking at what the Gambling Commission knew about these VIP schemes.
And I think in one case, it was even more extreme. It was 83 percent of the revenue came from two percent of the customers. So that shows you is there are some people out there losing a great deal of money. And that VIP model as a result is extremely important to those companies. Now, in some cases, those are people who have a lot of money and can afford to lose a lot of money. And that makes sense, right?
You know, if you're a multimillionaire and you like betting big and you know you're never going to lose more than you have, then I think a lot of people are quite relaxed about that. But in some cases, you know, these are people who are betting on credit or people betting with their families money or simply just betting beyond their means. And I've seen that again and again and again. And in many cases, the companies involved simply didn't check where the money was coming from.
Yeah, well, Rob, I've brought up the case of Tony Arioli. And James mentioned to me earlier that the Irish post office manager who stole a couple of million euros from his employers and was betting with that Paddy Power were giving him the VIP treatment. And Paddy Power never returned that money despite knowing it was stolen. Yeah, I mean, this is a problem with the regulatory architecture, right, the gambling commission oversees the gambling industry and their job isn't really to start redistributing any of the money that was lost, although they do issue sanctions and and that money then often is given to charity.
But their job isn't to put it back where it came from necessarily. Often people have to go through the courts to get that kind of money back. And, you know, when you're coming up against a major gambling company that has deep pockets, you know, it can be quite intimidating the idea of going to court with those people. So there's only a few people who've done that quite often. What happens is just as the case is about to go to court, suddenly the gambling company has a change of heart and returns the cash.
So, you know, that's that's the typical way these things work at the moment.
And I would argue that's because the regulatory system is is weak, that we should point out that since the Tony O'Reilly case went public, Paddy Power, Betfair, which rebranded as Flutter in May 2019, say they have increased spending on technology to detect addicts and employed staff to handle responsible gambling initiatives.
Is it possible to bet without feeling morally conflicted or without, you know, is there a bookie that you can bet with who is nicer than the other ones? Is there one that doesn't do these VIP schemes? You know, is there a betting company I could work for without without? Well, you got there in the Navy where I could sleep at night.
I mean, I'm interested to know the last question is perhaps slightly facetious, but but anyway, if I want to put a tenner on but I want to give it to the nicest possible company, is that possible? Oh, look, I mean, I would never judge somebody for where they choose to spend their money if they're a consumer, right? I mean, perhaps the bar is a little bit higher if it's a commercial arrangement like one of yours, Max.
But for the ordinary person, I don't think they should feel like they can't bet with somebody just in case.
I mean, yeah, there are companies that behave better than others, but there isn't a league table as such out there that you can go and look at. I mean, I guess what I might say you could do is do a little Google for Gambling Commission penalty or gambling commission fine. And VIP and have a look at some of the companies that crop up more than others. And then you might want to make a decision based on that. But ultimately, it's not.
In this case, I don't feel like it's up to consumers to make that choice. It's up to regulators to regulate properly and it's up to gambling companies to behave properly and it's up to politicians to legislate properly. So I think if people want to have a bet on the football, you know, I'm extremely relaxed about that. And I would never judge anybody for who they choose to do that with.
And, you know, is the regulation good enough? How much stronger could it be? Well, I mean, I think a lot of people would argue that it's not good enough, the laws were drawn up in 2005 before the existence of the iPhone. Right. So it's kind of ludicrous that we have a regulatory system that exists or that came into being before the landscape for gambling completely changed. Everybody now has a casino in their pocket and which they didn't have before.
And of course, it's not just football, although gambling has latched onto to football because of its popularity, you start out betting on football and then you go on the website. And very quickly, you're being asked if you want to play slots and casinos and all those other types of gambling product that actually are a lot more dangerous than than football betting, according to the statistics that we have on on problem gambling. So all of this is kind of developed and the law hasn't really developed with it.
So there's a review going on at the moment. The government's looking at overhauling gambling legislation.
Everything that I'm hearing suggests that within No.10 Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, all those people, they're actually pretty keen on on a fairly kind of seismic reform of of gambling legislation.
Now we'll see how that plays out because the review will have to take place. There'll be all kinds of evidence submitted to the Department of Culture. Media and Sport will have a big role to play in that. It won't just be number 10 making the rules, but usually if you've got that kind of impetus from the people at the very top, you can expect quite significant change. And I would expect that if I was a betting man, which I'm not.
How much influence does the bookmaking industry have in Westminster? I know a lot of MPs take the bookie dime in terms of donations and gifts.
Yeah, I mean, look, it has considerable influence and that there are some MPs who historically have spoken up for the gambling industry. There's an MP and Shipley called Phillip Davis, who I mean, to be fair to him, he has bookmaking running through his family. But, you know, he's always been out there advocating and lobbying for gambling. There's another couple of MPs are in similar positions, often because they have a racecourse in their constituency. And horse racing is is very dependent on the gambling industry.
So and, you know, there's very highly paid trade bodies. I think you're having the Betting and Gaming Council on the podcast later. I mean, their chief executive is a former Labor MP. So, yeah, there's look, there's significant political influence, but there's influence on the other side as well.
You know, these kind of lobbying games that go on behind the scenes are extraordinarily complex. And there's all kinds of interests at play here, everybody fighting it out to kind of influence the minds of politicians. So, you know, that's that's already going on. And it's only going to intensify as we go through this gambling review. I'm wondering, you know, if you were talking about kind of seismic reform of possibly seismic seismic reform of the gambling industry, I mean, how far could it go?
Because at the moment and correct me if I'm wrong, but the gambling industry's worth about 15 billion in the U.K., I think something like that, fourteen point eight, something like that. The last figures I've seen. So that's a lot of money. There's a sector which is, for example, as big as the arts and other creative industries with the arts. So you really cannot have these people on your back. It's a very important part of the economy.
And if you start hitting them with very strict regulations, there's nothing that prevents your gamblers, as I said, to go online and to go to operators which are based abroad and not, you know, in the UK or motel, the Isle of Man, which is the case of these companies. So there's a bit of a difficult, isn't it doesn't it, to be a global solution? Or actually could football itself show the way by perhaps prohibiting all kind of betting, sponsorship and advertising?
I mean, I think the blackmarket problem that you talk about has been overestimated. It's something that the gambling industry likes to talk a lot, a lot about because they say if you regulate us any further, well, people who just go to the black market, I mean, the gambling commission itself has said that they don't really see this as a big problem. The black market isn't that much of a big deal. I know what you're saying about the weapons and people can go and do that.
The question is whether they will. I mean, if you were to ban gambling in the UK tomorrow. Yeah, for sure that would happen. But if you would, just to put tighter regulation in place to protect vulnerable people, then there's no reason why people wouldn't be able to continue gambling if they wanted to. And I mean, just look at tobacco, for instance. You can smoke if you want to smoke. It's just that tobacco advertising is not rammed down your throat every single hour of the day in the way that gambling is at the moment.
I mean, I think there's a good chance that I don't think you'll see football lead the way because, you know, if you tell the Premier League or a football club, do you want to have less money, they're going to say no. The question is, will the gambling industry do it? Will the government do it? Look, it's tricky. I think the gambling industry is going to weigh this up and think, do we want to avoid much tougher regulation further down the line?
As I suggested earlier, I wouldn't be all that surprised to see some of the British gambling companies come out and say, look, we're going to voluntarily stop sponsoring shirts or stop, you know, as they already have done, for instance, advertising during the games, because, you know, that's a PR win for them. It actually doesn't cost very much. What you would then have is pressure on the government to say, well, look, if our own domestic industry has decided not to do this, maybe we should be thinking about whether we're allowing the Chinese, Malaysian, Filipino, all of those different gambling companies to advertise as well, because those companies actually don't bring anything in tax revenue in the UK.
They don't bring anything outside of the game. Therefore, we don't need them. So I have a suspicion that that's how it could play out.
Rob, thanks so much for coming on. We appreciate it, as always.
Thank you. Rob Davies there. That'll do for part two.
Part three, Richard Simmons, the chair of the Betting and Gaming Council, joins us. Welcome to Part three of The Guardian Weekly. Let's introduce Richard Simmons, chair of the Betting and Gaming Council, a single industry association for betting and gaming, representing betting shops, online gaming businesses and casinos. Thanks so much for coming on. Bridget, how are you doing?
I'm fine, thank you. And it's a pleasure.
Tell us exactly what the council is. If I if I got it right there. It's a relatively recent development. And how much power do you have?
Well, the Betting and Gaming Council was set up and launched in November last year. It took over the responsibilities of the Remote Gambling Association, the Association of British Bookmakers and the Casino Association. And we represent over 90 percent of the regulated gambling industry in the U.K. We don't represent the national lottery or indeed our age, but pretty much everything else. And we're here to raise standards in safer gambling.
Are you doing that? We launched with 22 different commitments and I'm sure I'll talk about some of them than the work that we've done during that time. But obviously also we've been working hard to try and keep some of our physical premises, betting shops, casinos open during covid. And so you probably know they've they've all had to be closed in Liverpool. And and, you know, that really questions the viability of many of these premises going forward.
We've had in the last two parts, firstly a first hand account of gambling addiction and McGivern, sort of the details of how inextricably linked football and the gambling industry is. How healthy do you think the relationship is? Well, as I said, I think all our members that sponsor football put safer gambling at the heart of what they're doing. So funds are used by the clubs and the education of their players, of their coaches to make sure that they understand the rules of the governing body.
And they're also used in that community. The funds are used in community programs. I was a director of Leicester City. All the clubs have very clear and do an awful lot of work in their communities that have an understanding that many people are attracted to football. They can also put other messages out there about gambling, alcohol, about activity. I remember going to Derby County and and looking at the wonderful thing they do around walking football. So there's a lot of projects that that go on in in that sort of space.
But to me, this is about making gambling safe. It's about raising awareness. But actually, the sponsorship is now helping some of those lower league clubs to survive. And if I could give you just two examples. GDC have just announced a major sponsorship of the Trident League. So I think that's two hundred and twenty six clubs. Fifteen thousand players. They're very much at lower league. In fact, there's no branding at all of that sponsorship, but it's support that they're giving.
Stoke is the obvious one. Stoke is owned by Bepretty six five who are based in Stoke for the last 10 years. The price of a season ticket hasn't gone up because of that sponsorship. So it's getting the balance right between awareness and awareness of products, but also making sure the messages are right.
To Bridget, are you not personally troubled by the massive scale of the advertising and sponsorship in football, given that you must know how addictive online gambling can be and how susceptible young people can be to these shiny, glossy adverts they're subjected to, you know, all day, every day during, say, the match day experience or even just watching at home?
Well, we introduce the whistle to whistle ban in August twenty nineteen that stops on television. Any gambling advertisement? Five minutes from five minutes before till five minutes after the game. And we've actually just done some analysis of exactly what that showed. And what it found was that the vast majority of adverts have now been reduced. It's I think it's ninety seven percent overall, but also that young people are not seeing those advertisements. And I think that's an important point.
I think there is more that we can do and there's a greater conversation to be had. But when the House of Lords Select Committee recently did a whole inquiry into gambling, they were very clear that actually there isn't or there isn't real evidence that people having awareness of the product actually then leads them to having a problem with gambling. And they rightly wanted more work to be done. And I'm sure as we have the forthcoming review of the Gambling Act with the government, that will be part of it.
One of the things that we have introduced, there was a real concern about the IPS or higher value customers. We introduced a code, which means that you have to have proper source of funds, checks, you have to have board oversight of those people. You cannot be a VIP under the age of 25 except in exceptional circumstances. And we are intervening more. So I would hope we launched being very clear that we have not been best in class in the past, but we are now taking a lot of actions, whether it be around games design, in terms of the design of of of of not encouraging people to play slot machines more.
It's about advertising technology to make sure that we are working now with some of the big online servers to make sure that they are not sure gambling adverts to anyone who's under the age of 18. And unless they can prove to us that they have age gating under the age of twenty five, that we won't place adverts with them.
So we, we know we've got to do more and we are doing more handlers. The VIP handlers still getting paid out of the losses of the VIP. So that's something that really strikes me as sort of morally repugnant.
All the companies went in front of the House of Lords committee and said that that was not going to be something that was happening in the future. And I agree. But a lot of the stories that we're still reading in the press, and I don't deny them any way, but I would say there are things that have happened in the past. And when I took the house of the I took five senior chief executives of all the big companies, the House of Lords, all of them were quite clear.
The safer gambling was that the heart of everything that they were doing now? Yes, Richard, I mean, you were talking about the House of Lords select committee and having no obvious link between exposure to advertising and gambling addiction, I hope I'm saying that correctly. I mean, one thing that strikes me is that how little research there is on football addiction in this country compared to some others in Sweden, for example, there's been a lot of research about it.
And they've actually established that gambling addicts were 15 times more likely to make attempts on their own lives than people from the general population. There are no such studies in England that I'm aware of. Similarly, when you look at the stats of people who actually take their own lives because of gambling addiction, you realize that, you know, available stats just estimates between 250 and 650 like one person a day, which is absolutely awful. I mean, wouldn't be one of the first things you should do should you start studying properly the source and the the numbers behind the addiction?
Because if we don't know what we're dealing with, how can we deal with it?
Well, we do actually have studies that show it's around 300000 people. That number hasn't changed over the last ten years. It's the prevalence study that the government, Department of Health, the gambling commission has undertaken each year. Now, I'm not saying that the problem and I think if you went to ask the Samaritans, they say we need to be very careful in looking at suicide and mental health and we're aware that this is a mental health problem.
I do think we need to do more about football sponsorship by those who have no interest in the UK. So let's take the Premier League, for example. I only have two members who sponsor football teams in the Premier League. Out of the eight that are sponsored by gambling companies, the other six have absolutely no interest in the UK. What they're looking to do is to give awareness to people overseas. And I think I've already talked the gambling commissioner to dismiss.
We need to do something about that whitelist and we need to remove that. We are working on a sports sponsorship code. I'm sure that will be part of our discussion of government. But I think we think we need to be aware of all the way through is gambling is a worldwide industry. So if people are not gambling on regulated sites, which are part of our members, they will be turning to what we would describe as the black market. And P.W. have done a major study which showed 200000 people in one year went and looked at black market sites.
Those black market sites do not set the standards that we set and require our members to step by. And so you're encouraging people. If you look at other countries around the world, Sweden and France in particular, because they closed down on their regulated industry so much, the numbers of people who are then going to unregulated sites has risen in Britain.
It's all very well saying when the phone stops stop. But the fact of the matter is, the very nature of addiction means that a lot of people, when the phone stops, just can't stop. And very little seems to be done being done by the industry to help them stop, actually.
Well, we for the last 20 years, the only funders of research, education and treatment has been the industry. And we announced earlier this year one hundred million over the next four years. That's on top of the ten million that's given annually to gamble where. So the industry has done more. I think it's absolutely right that the NHS has now set up a couple of clinics. They said they're going to set up twenty two. I visited the one in Leeds.
And when you talk to them, so many of these issues, I mean, of our mental health, our costs, morbidity issues, that people have got problems not only in gambling, but in other in other areas. We need to acknowledge that we need to work more closely with the NHS. But I come from having worked in the alcohol industry. I mean, the NHS has been funding alcohol, alcohol problems over all of that time for the last twenty years.
What we need to make sure is that we are working together with the charities in the space like that gamemaker like gambler where like why again, like the residential charities which the industry have provided the funding for up until now. And we need to I also think we need to talk about it more. I ran the British Pub Association for ten years. People talked to their children when they went to university about how much they drink. We need to make sure that people, particularly because it's on your phone, that we need to be having those conversations, which I don't think we have been having.
And we don't need to push this under the carpet. We need to have it absolutely open the open. Nothing wrong with having a bet. There are the vast majority of people gamble totally responsibly, but we need to make sure that we're protecting those who who are vulnerable and we're open to that sort of persuasion.
But there's no there's nothing wrong with having a drink, Brigida, but if I'm an alcoholic, you know, it's not the Baramidze fault if I go in and order a pint and he gives it to me. But if the barman is coming around to my house and leaving crates of beer and bottles of vodka outside as a present to try and encourage me to drink and bring me back into the fold, that seems grossly irresponsible, bordering on negligent.
That is the sort of behavior that has to be stopped. One of the things I think we also need to look at is an ombudsman for this industry. So we do have IBS, which actually looks at dealing with complaints about facts that are not valid or whatever. But I think we need to take it further than that. Obviously, the gambling commission has stepped in and imposed fines when they think that behaviour has been wrong. But as I said, I would hope that's something that we are not seeing now and that we are doing so much more as individual companies to take action where there are issues and where the behaviour has been wrong.
And I'm unaware of of that where that has happened. I do also think that there are issues on the other side, because, as you rightly say, when there is people do think, compulsive about it, they will do anything, whether it's to get a drink or to find a way that they can gamble. And I agree, we're in a worldwide industry. But you could also, you know, in a in a pub, it would be against the law to have someone who was drunk and as it would in a shop.
But you buy that alcohol and then you go and drink it at home. It's not really much that shopkeep or the and you can do is out the door that we were in power to.
We're talking about, you know, the number of clubs which have come to rely on the betting industry's money to function or at least a part of the budget. And it's 26 out of 44 clubs in the Premier League in the championship. They've got names of betting companies on their shirt front. Now, I mean, you could talk about like the football itself is addicted to gambling. What would happen to the gambling industry if tomorrow, through much tougher regulation, the same thing, it was done to gambling and betting that was done to alcohol and tobacco advertisement and Schertz sponsorship, for example, was banned.
I would make a distinction between tobacco, which is just bad for you, full stop and gambling and alcohol, which in moderation and dealt with responsibly, is something that people enjoy and we don't want to prohibit it and sweep it under the carpet. But I do think there's more discussion that we need to have. It's not true that alcohol I mean, alcohol has a sponsorship code. It's looked after by the Portland group. We will have a sponsorship code which will be based on on similar lines.
And it's something I think we will need to discuss with the government. But we have to think at the other end of the scale, which is where I started, that funding is being used at a time for sports and grassroots sport, which absolutely need it. And they are struggling and will stop providing the activity, which for me has been about personal development through sport, for life. And at a time when we have the government worrying about obesity, when we had the time about participation, when we have people who absolutely like me, love sport and love watching sport, we need to make sure that those pathways which are being funded by some of this money is still there.
And I suppose the question you would fly back to is if that funding is not provided by our sector, who will it be provided for? And I would also say that in SkyBitz, who are the sponsors of the mind of all that, the lower leagues, they have very clear rules about how their sponsorship is needed. I think we do need to do more in the Premier League about weightlifting, and we need to talk to the government about what more we can do overall to make sure that its sponsorship is not being used in the wrong way.
Brigid, thanks so much for coming on. If we do this subject again, will you come back? As will no doubt by this afternoon, we'll be getting tweets of questions that we should have asked, that we haven't asked, et cetera. Could we keep this conversation going? Of course we can.
Inevitably, this is never going to be an easy subject to discuss. But thank you. You've been much, much more polite about it than some of the interviews that I've done.
Appreciate your time. I we got in trouble for that, too, now. Thank you. We appreciate your time. Bridget Simmons there, the chair of the Betting and Gaming Council.
So I suppose what we have to ask now, Max, is can we expect to see you in the near future wearing a t shirt emblazoned with the logo of a bookie I've never heard of with your two thumbs up going?
Well, I've had a fiver on Sheffield United to be Southampton next week or Fulham even, which is who they're playing. OK, so I, I. I message my agent yesterday. And I said just in that way, I think I'm going to step away from orgasming office from now on.
So although there is part of me that is terrified about saying that out loud because of the financial implications myself, I think it and this this after you got your sea legs on the Paddy Power banter boat.
Well, I mean, you know, I don't think it makes me a hero, but I probably knew this before, but.
I think I think I like I think I said at the start of the poll, I think I found it different just sticking a T-shirt on a going, have a back, get some free offers than hosting a show for a betting company. But there is a huge distinction, to be fair.
I mean, I'm mocking you, but now I know there is a big distinction, I think. But I you stand over my my assertion when chatting to James that I took the coward's way out by playing devil's advocate. But I do think at some point, whether you're a drug addict or an alcoholic or a gambling addict. You have to take a certain amount of responsibility for your own actions, and I don't. James didn't disagree with me, but they do.
These people who are suffering do deserve every opportunity to go about their recovery as best they can, if that's what they choose to do.
Yeah, I think I think working in this industry indirectly, it will be impossible for any of us to to not have a link. But in terms of agreeing directly to take money, to put a T-shirt on to say get 50 quid free bet if if that, you know, being serious for a second, if that put one person on a journey to where James got to, then I you know, I don't need that money. OK, well, that'll do for today.
Larry, thanks for your time. You're very welcome to Cheers. We'll be back on Thursday.
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