Should Gambling Be Considered a UK Public Health Issue?

Health | Did You Know

Should Gambling Be Considered a UK Public Health Issue?

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

There is no doubt that gambling within the UK is highly regulated. Although gambling is widely accepted as a pastime that many people like to spend time doing, it is something that comes with a pretty strict set of rules and regulations behind it. Most of these are around ensuring that people can gamble responsibly and in a safe manner; but there are arguments for these regulations not being enough and gamblers still being put at risk.

Why Gambling Could Be A Public Health Issue

If you look at the UK Government website for public health issues, you’ll generally see topics that affect large numbers of the population – cancel, dementia, diabetes and even alcohol intake, but currently you won’t see gambling listed. Although you might assume that alcohol is something that only affects those that drink excessively, it is a public issue because drinking culture means that at times, even those people who don’t drink can be affected. As such, there is an argument that gambling could be considered the same – for example, those that gamble too much and risk their finances could also be putting the people who are financially dependent on them at risk.

Faculty of Public Health President Professor Maggie Rae said “Harmful gambling is a major public health issue which seriously impacts on health in a number of ways. As well as suicide and severe mental health problems, this report highlights harms caused by gambling including financial, employment, relationships, physical health, and criminal activity.”

She went on to talk about gambling companies and what they are doing to encourage people to gamble too much and inappropriately. “Gambling organisations are preying on people’s addictions, and we see that the burden of gambling harms is born by those already facing disadvantage, serving to widen existing health inequalities”.

If you listen to this argument then you could easily be persuaded to agree that gambling should be a public health issue. When you consider that gambling irresponsibility can lead to severe consequences it makes sense that it is considered an issue that is within the public interest.

The Argument for People Taking Responsibility for Their Own Actions

However, those that don’t agree would argue that there are already enough restrictions in place to help keep gamblers safe and that those who choose to gamble should take responsibility for their own actions. It is true that the UK Gambling Commission puts in place and adapts gambling legislation on a regular basis, but is it enough? The UK Gambling Commission are certainly not afraid to change and adapt legislation if they see fit – for example changing the minimum age for buying a National Lottery ticket or the banning of using credit cards on gambling websites; so there is certainly an argument for these legislations being enough to keep people safe.

One argument could be for wondering what would be different should gambling be changed to come under the category of public health issue. After all, there are already rules and regulations in place, there are already charities to help those that are struggling with problem gambling and already steps in place to ensure that gambling issues are kept under control. If gambling was considered a public health issue by the UK Government, many would argue that there are not really any other steps that could be taken by the gambling industry and as such, what is the point in categorising it as such?

Gambling Legislation throughout the UK

Although gambling throughout the UK is not one of the strictest in the world there are certainly plenty of measures in place to promote responsible gambling. Not only does the UK Gambling Commission ensure that these are the correct measures in place but many organisations within the gambling industry work closely with gambling charities to ensure that they are doing the best by their punters.

For example, users looking for the best bingo sites will often find lists on affiliate sites - these are also subject to regulation like traditional operators so people browsing these sites can feel secure that the site they choose is a safe bet.

There are going to be several changes to gambling legislation surrounding online gaming at the end of October which goes someway to showing that it is something that is taken seriously. Some new rules that are coming into play include how wins on online slot machines can be classified and ensuring that the amount a person has spent in a gaming session is shown clearly on the screen. The idea is to ensure that people can remain in control of how much they are gambling rather than getting carried away. Another way that the new legislation coming in play will do this is to ban the use of the auto-play feature on online slot machines; which means that users have to physically click for each spin.

The Future of Gambling

Although there are no publicly known plans for gambling to be officially considered a UK public health issue, the truth is that we don’t really know what the future holds. If gambling is categorised as a public health issue it is hard to know exactly what will change in the way of gambling legislation, as the UK Gambling Commission are already able to adapt and bring in new rules as they see fit.

One thing we are likely to see is changes surrounding the responsibility that gambling platforms have to take when it comes to who can use their site. There has already been some talk of removing elite levels and games that are currently on offer to those that gamble the highest amounts – as many feel that encouraging people to bet more just to access exclusive levels is irresponsible. Gambling platforms already have some responsibility to ensure that they are operating under responsible gambling guidelines specifically around affordability. However if there are any changes coming in the future then it is likely that stricter rules surrounding this will likely happen – whereby online gambling platforms have to take much more of an active role in ensuring that these checks are carried out.

The future remains to be seen whether things will be changed with regards to how gambling in the UK is categorised, but as yet there are no plans to make any drastic changes any time soon!

Head of Content, reality TV watcher and lover of cookies.