A ban on gambling would be an opportunity for organised crime, writes Andrew Lyman, Head of Public Affairs at William Hill.
Whether it is calls from commercially motivated campaign groups to ban gaming machines in betting shops (but notably not in casinos) or sporting bodies calling for the banning of certain bet types, history has proved that prohibition is never a clever political response to activity which a proportion of the population will engage in anyway; either in a regulated market or in an illegal one.
In a liberal democracy, anti gambling campaigners know that calling for gambling to be banned per se would result in widespread criticism. Therefore the only tactic open to them is to isolate and demonise certain products or sub sectors; hoping to knock down the opponents tenpins one at a time.
How many anti gambling statements start with "I'm not against, but.................."?
The suggestion that bookmakers "target the poor" is to completely misunderstand the fundamental reason for betting shop regulation. Betting shops were regulated in the 1960s because of the prevalence of illegal gambling in working class areas. There are now half the number of betting shops than there were at their peak. Naturally betting shops would be in greater numbers in the areas of high unemployment because they are also the areas of highest population density with large working populations.
A reduction in betting shop numbers or the removal of a particular product will create one certain result; an increase in illegal gambling and its return to control by criminals rather than legitimate operators.
Illegal gaming machine supply is already prevalent in inner city areas with dense populations. Even in areas where campaigners claim there are "too many betting shops" there is clear evidence that demand is not fully met by the regulated sector. So far some 100 illegal gaming machines have been seized in Haringey. In most inner city areas locations , local authorities do not address this issue; preferring instead to focus on softer regulated targets.
Rest assured that if any product is removed from the regulated market, organised crime will fill the vacuum within a very short period of time.
Criminals will not be signposting players to Gamcare or funding problem gambling research. Neither will they be paying tax!
The same goes for banning bet types. All this does is drive business to the illegal Asian market and to crime groups run from Eastern Europe.
Politicians of all shades need to think rationally before they speak or campaign on a policy issue which, because of its emotive nature, governments (and opposition politicians) can get so very wrong.
The so called evidence being touted by certain MPs or self confessed anti gambling academics, who have readily attached themselves to this commercially motivated campaign. is anecdotal rhetoric bordering on the hysterical; and certainly not statistically significant.