Controlling problem gambling is a conversation we must have

I am part of a package on BBC politics discussing the public health implications of problem gambling. We recorded the piece in amongst the shops in Merthyr Tydfil where, as we know, there is no lack of choice for bookmakers or amusement arcades in which to stake money on a lucky bet. There are also the national lottery outlets.

Problem gambling is a conversation that I would like to hear more views on.

For anyone who follows sport you will easily recognise the predominance of gambling at the very heart of the culture of the competitions that we follow.

As a football fan I am very conscious of the endless stream of adverts for gambling – on shirts, on hoardings, in the match day programmes, on the rolling TV coverage, in adverts featuring football “celebs”, in the sports pages of the newspapers and constantly pushed at us on our mobile technology via social media. It seems no space is safe from the power of the bookies and their advertising budgets.

Bets are widely available on results, scorers and even the frequency of incidents within games. We are offered “odds” that can fluctuate in game and endless “offers” and “boosts” as the bookies entice viewers to take bets on any given match. Add to this “free bets” to encourage more people online and, in this age of mobile technology, all of these forces are significant drivers to encourage more regular participation in betting. As a result problem gambling has increased.

Our High Streets are proliferated with gambling shops who advertise wide ranging offers, offer comfortable spaces and light refreshments. The betting shop is one High Street outlet that certainly seems to have prospered in recent years. The industry expresses fears of job losses after the controls imposed on fixed odds betting terminals, and next season will see a voluntary ban on ‘whistle to whistle’ adverts during football games.

Do you think we should be concerned? Is the normalisation of gambling now a public health issue that should cause us the same concerns as smoking and the excessive consumption of alcohol?

As your Assembly Member I hear much advice that tells us we have cause for concern.

Evidence and Advice

Earlier this year the Chief Medical Officer for Wales published a report called “Gambling with our health” which highlighted:

“In Wales, 61% of adults gambled in the last 12 months. 1.1% of the population, which is equivalent to 30,000 people, self-reported as having a problem with gambling. A further 3.8% of people in Wales are estimated to be at risk of problem gambling in Wales”. He added

“Whilst recognising that gambling can be a source of enjoyment, it can lead to financial difficulty and harm, including anxiety, stress, depression and alcohol and substance misuse. Gambling does not just affect the individual; it can impact on their family, friends and wider society”.

I attend the National Assembly’s Cross Party Group on problem gambling and was recently alarmed to hear research findings about the awareness of gambling amongst young people.

Indeed the normalisation of sport and gambling seems to be a cultural shift, and I am asking should it cause us greater concern?

Many now think so, and initiatives like “Can we have our ball back” are, for example, making the case for more awareness about the link between football and gambling. The Welsh Government is taking steps to look at the public health implications and giving local councils the ability to control the number of gambling outlets on our High Streets.

The Gambling Commission exists to regulate and advise on the industry and offers support for the public around safer gambling. They offer advice on scams, how to better control behaviour and where to seek support if gambling is a problem.

Enough guidance or more control?

I want to consider these issues in more detail. They are very important in communities like Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

  • Is the actions outlined above enough, or is firmer action needed across the spectrum of gambling issues in our local community?

I have met individuals whose lives have been ruined by gambling. Their personal testimony about the grip that gambling held over their lives is striking.

  • How can we best strike a balance between the longstanding opportunity for a “flutter” on sport, and the increasing normalisation of messages that our favourite sports can only be enjoyed if there is a bet attached to it? 
  • Is the work on promoting ‘gambling aware’ messages enough or should regulation go further? 
  • What is the best way of shaping behaviour, especially in the lives of our young people, to make them more aware of the risks associated with problem gambling?

These are just a few of the questions I want to consider in more detail. The regulation of gambling is not a devolved issue but the implications for public health are. We have to deal with the consequences, but have limited powers (outside planning) on the gambling industry.

I am genuinely interested in learning more about this issue and over the next few months and would be pleased to hear more on the views of constituents in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney on gambling.


(I am aware that raising this debate could affect some constituents. The Gambling Commission highlight the following support if you need help and advice:

Listed below are some of the organisations and services available in the UK:

Organisations that provide help and advice on gambling matters A website that gives advice on gambling responsibly – this means making choices based on all the facts, and staying in control of how much time and money you spend.
Problem gambling
Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust

Tel: 020 7534   6699 / 6687

Treats problem gamblers in England and Wales who are aged 16 and over. It assesses the needs of problem gamblers as well as those of their partners and family members, and offers evidence based treatments as well as interventions to assist with financial, employment, social and relationship difficulties.
The Christian Centre for Gambling Rehabilitation A Chinese Christian charity established in 1996 that helps mainly Chinese-speaking problem gamblers to stop gambling and recover from their addiction and its adverse effects. They provide information, advice and support services which include counselling, money advice and group meetings to pathological gamblers and their relatives and friends.
Count Me Out A not for profit social enterprise that aims to help vulnerable children and adults who are addicted to, harmed or exploited by gambling by promoting self-exclusion and social responsibility.
Gam-Anon Support to those affected by another person’s gambling. A fellowship of men and women who are husbands, wives, relatives or close friends who have been affected by problem gambling.
Gamblers Anonymous
National helpline number:
02073 843040
A fellowship of men and women who have joined together to do something about their own gambling problem and to help other compulsive gamblers do the same.
Gamblock Gamblock helps prevent gambling sites running on your PC. Once downloaded, users are directed to the GamBlock website when trying to access a gambling website. The GamBlock website also provides advice to people who have problems controlling their gambling.
National helpline number:
0808 8020133
A registered charity that takes a non-judgemental approach to gambling, and a leading authority on the provision of information, advice and practical help in addressing the social impact of gambling.
Gordon Moody Association

Tel: 01384 241292

Provides residential treatment for severely addicted gamblers, as well as providing outreach support and internet counselling service.
Consumer support
Citizens Advice Helps people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free information and advice, and by influencing policymakers.
Debt support organisations
 Money Advice Service An independent service, set up by government, to help people manage their money.
Debt Advice Foundation A UK debt advice charity offering free, confidential support and advice to anyone worried about debt.
Debt Support Trust
Tel: 0800 058 0226
A not for profit debt charity with trained, friendly debt advisors ready to advise you on available debt solutions.
National Debtline
National helpline number: 08088 084000
Provides free confidential and independent advice on how to deal with debt problems.
StepChange Debt Charity

Tel:  0800 138 1111

A debt advice organisation offering free, confidential and impartial debt help to anyone who needs it, available online 24 hours a day.
Other support organisations
Action for Children Helps children achieve their full potential, through services that support some of the most vulnerable and excluded children in the UK.
Counselling Directory Provides a counselling support network, enabling those in distress to find a counsellor close to them and appropriate for their needs.
UK helpline number:
116 123
A 24 hours a day service providing confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide.




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